Month: April 2019

More on “Executive Functioning”

We freely toss around terms or jargon that don’t immediately translate to the average person on the street.

“My child has ADHD.” “I’m sure she’s dyslexic.”   “Since preschool, he’s shown sensory integration issues.” “Well, you know he’s on ‘the spectrum.’” (Wait, which spectrum are we talking about here?)


While we use these terms casually, do we really understand there is no definitive test, no X-ray, no blood test, no CT scan that definitively diagnose these syndromes (and many others).

“Executive Function Disorder” is another one of the syndromes talked about in cocktail parties as people chat about their children’s issues.

A primary mission of ours is to turn such jargon into images that parents can get their mind around to help understand them in down-to-earth terms.

This week we’ve had a run on children diagnosed with “ADHD” and said to have “executive function deficits.”

What does that mean?

In reality what it means is the child has very little that is steering his/her boat, that is they have very floppy rudders and are floating out in the water waiting for the wind to blow one way or the other.

Common characteristics include:

  • Does not get started on his/her own.
  • Does not initiate activities like homework.
  • Does not sustain “mental effort.”
  • Frustrates easily.
  • Does not readily follow multi-step directions.
  • Is easily bored.

Even though these children are readily and frequently put on stimulant medication, the stimulants can only have so much impact.  When working well, they provide the child with a percentage better capacity to pay attention and focus.  That’s the benefit of stimulants.   By the evening the effects of the stimulants have typically worn off.

When a child is showing signs of these issues of ‘executive functioning,” understand that there is no “fix” in the typical sense of the word.

The closest “fix” is effective management.

To effectively manage, the parent(s) need to take an inventory of how things are characteristically  managed at home.  Decisions are then made as to if it should be business as usual or whether changes need to be made.

As part of taking inventory, some questions to ask include the following:

  • What messages have we given our child (consciously or unconsciously)? (e.g., “You can play video games and go on YouTube” freely without earning the privilege, even if not stated so directly.)
  • Are we doing too much? (i.e., Do we do more than the child when it comes to school work?)
  • Are we in the yell and punish cycle? (Is yelling our go-to strategy?
  • Have we really clearly stated our expectations and explained the cost of not meeting them? (Believe it or not, most parents have not, even though they think they have.)
  • Are we too soft and accommodating? (This is a  big culprit.)
  • Are we overly rigid and too demanding? (Leading to anger and passive aggressive avoidance on the child’s part.)

As a first step before taking action with your child, these and many other questions should be answered.  Sure, there are all kinds of treatments out there willing to take your $3500 – $4,000 (the common range) guaranteed to cure what ails the child without starting with these questions.

However, I remain ever-skeptical.  Before you plunk down a large amount of money to fix your child, start with taking an inventory. Start with yourself.

Copyright, 2019
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

To purchase a signed copy of  “What To Do About Dyslexia: 25 Essential Concepts” & Dr. Selznick’s other books and to receive blog updates go to

More Travels In Boy Brain

A glimpse inside 12 year old boy brain:

“They’re at it again.  Talking about that 504 Plan, whatever that is.  I heard something like extra time.  My mom seems to want it.  Why would I want extra time?  I want less time.  I just want to get it done.”

“They’re taking me to that doctor. again tomorrow.  He’s the one that said I’ve got this thing – like in my brain or something – I forget what he called it.  It had some letters smooshed together, like AD something.”

“School is just so boring.  I mean how many of these stupid worksheets can they hand out – circle this…cross out that.  Just because they put a picture on the top of the sheet does’t make it fun.   They think the picture will keep kids wanting to do it. Is that all the teacher knows is worksheets.  Ugh.  I can’t stand it.”

“I also hear my mom say something about ‘in-class support.’  I don’t know what that means.  I just know there’s this lady in the back of the room always on her laptop grading the worksheets.  Then she hands them back with frowny or smiley faces on them.  I get a lot of frowny faces. “

“The girls really bug me.  They get smiley faces all the time.  They always look so happy and I just can’t stand it.  I know the teacher likes them best.  She always seems bugged by me.  Last week she told me they were going to have a meeting about me soon to talk about my 504 Plan.  I only know one other kid who I think has this 504 thing –  Noah – and he is such an idiot.  He always acts so stupid.  Why am I getting it too?”

“I just want to play Fortnite…when can I do that?  I want to be left alone.”

Boy brain is a squishy, fluid terrain. It rarely is where you would like it to be at any given moment, especially in relation to anything academic.  Rather than fight with it or punish it, you need to catch its attention.


That is, you need to manage it.

Since it is so fluid and squishy, your best bet is to provide greater structure for boy brain. Changing the odds should be your focus.

Boy brain doing homework up in its bedroom?  The odds of getting anything done that way is pretty low, so change the rules and the structure.  This has the effect of changing the odds and the rules.

Be sure and set the expectation.  You must be eminently clear as to how you want things to go and not leave it up to boy brain to decide.

Here’s an example of a conversation that changes the odds and catches boy brain attention:

Listen, Jack, we need to talk.  You’re a big boy.  You’re not a little kid anymore. What that means is you need to grow up and take some responsibility for yourself.   I know you love to play Fortnite and that’s fine, but here’s the deal.  From now on, you can play Fortnite, but only after you’ve earned it.  What we want from you is honest effort.  So give us an honest hour or so on your school work – not up in your room and you may have earned the privilege of playing your game.

Copyright, 2019
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

To purchase a signed copy of  “What To Do About Dyslexia: 25 Essential Concepts” & Dr. Selznick’s other books and to receive blog updates go to

Facing the Writing Challenges

Open-ended writing can be dreadfully difficult for school-struggling children.  On so many levels, they find the task to be overwhelming.

For those who are struggling, the more common classroom writing tasks that encourage the child to write as he/she feels is problematic.  The typical “write about your weekend,” is a classic open-ended prompt that struggling children have no idea how to proceed.

To address writing problems, schools typically recommend occupational therapy (OT).  While OT serves certain purposes, for the vast majority of children with writing issues the remediation given by OT typically centers upon the motor-aspects of writing and does not address the more challenging aspects of the writing process.

In short, they find the whole process overwhelming.

While this is a drum that we have been beating for number of years, there are no signs of any changes taking place on any meaningful level and the ongoing demand to just keep writing persists.

With the structured approaches the children are taught at very basic sentence levels. The remediation needed is long and laborious.

They practice the writing of a simple sentence until they have mastered the basic concept.  For example, the children are taught that every sentence has a triangle which represents the subject of the sentence, as well as a square, which is the action or the verb.

Simple sentences are generated.

The children  play   

Once simple sentences are mastered,  more complex sentences can be practiced and generated.

(The happy children played in the school playground after doing their schoolwork.”)

As different sentence styles are mastered and internalized by the child, he/she can work on the concept of one paragraph containing a topic sentence and four or five supporting sentences.

This processes is highly sequential and based in skill-mastery in order to develop fundamental writing skills.

The approach is clearly in opposition to the more popular, open-ended approaches that are the norm in schools across the country.  These sequential approaches that are so crucial are often criticized as depriving the child of creativity.  They certainly do not tend to tap into the child’s imaginative processes.

However, when the child is unable to understand the components of writing a basic sentence, this lack of understanding clearly impacts any potential creativity and their ability to communicate effectively in writing.

Having assessed thousands of kids in my career, I am continually struck by the challenges children face when it comes to their writing.  At a very basic level, they have little to no idea what goes into the writing of a sentence, no less a paragraph or a more involved and complex essay.  For children who are on the dyslexic/LD spectrum, their writing problems are profound.

For children who are on the smooth road and who seem to have little problem with the writing process, business as usual in school is fine for them.

For the children of concern, the ones on the rougher road, we need to find alternatives to help them become fundamentally literate.

Just telling them to do more of it is unacceptable.  It’s like handing a kid a tennis racket and telling them just play the game without showing them how to grip the racket or how to hit a forehand.

The fundamentals need to be taught directly and practiced over time to be internalized.

Copyright, 2018
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

To purchase a signed copy of  “What To Do About Dyslexia: 25 Essential Concepts” & Dr. Selznick’s other books and to receive blog updates go to


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