Executive Functioning

“What’s the Ratio?”

One of the biggest challenges in this business of struggling children is deciding what’s the ratio between a legitimate disorder of some kind or another and a child’s choice.

For example, homework or chore avoidance is frequently explained due to a disorder not allowing the child to complete the task.

Parents reveal the ratio as they say things like, “Well, he couldn’t help clean up his room last night because of his ADHD.”

While I am not denying the existence of disorders, I would encourage parents to question their ratios.

Recently, I had a talk with a dad, Gerald,  about his 8 year old daughter, Abbey, a third grader who has becoming increasingly challenging to manage.

As Gerald informed me, Abbey has been very “anxious” to the point where she can’t do things asked of her and that she might need medication.

“How do you know she’s anxious,” I ask him.

“Well, every time we start to do homework she starts crying and having a fit.  We try to find out  what’s wrong, but she will only say things like, ‘I’m scared.’  It’s the same when we want to put her to bed – she starts crying and having a fit.  Even when we ask her to put her clothes away, she starts whimpering on the floor, saying things like ‘I can’t do it.  I’m too scared.”

(At this point in the conversation, if I had a beard, I envision that I’d be stroking it trying to look as thoughtful as possible, as I’d be nodding and saying something like, “Hmmm…hmmm…” in curious and seemingly wise tones.)

I ask, “What do you do when all of this is going on?”

“Well, we comfort her, of course, and we tell her that everything’s going to be all right.  We do what we can to soother her.”

(I do my best not to roll my eyes.)

“Does she show this “anxiety” when she’s in school?”

The dad explains that pre-COVID and even with partial school attendance under the current conditions that Abbey has never shown any of her anxiety in school or in social situations.  It’s only at home.

Not being able to hold back further, I dive in.

“Look, Gerald.  What is the one thing that kids are driven by?  What is it that they want above all else?”

Gerald looks at me like I am a bit off center and he’s not really sure how to respond.  He says, “Well, they want to be loved, of course.”

In somewhat teasing tones, I respond, “Gerald…Gerald… I know they want to be loved. But, beyond being loved, what drives them?”

Gerald doesn’t know.

I say, “OK.  I will tell you.  It’s simple.  It’s one word… Pleasure!!!!  They want to have pleasure.  That’s it. Putting your clothes away and doing homework does  not give pleasure.”

When asked what about his ratio of Abbey’s anxiety to avoidance, Gerald admitted that he saw it as about 80% due to anxiety vs. avoidance.

If Abbey showed even a hint of anxiety in school, I might agree with him, but since she showed no anxiety anywhere else other than at home, I had a different ratio.

Looking at Gerald squarely, I offered a different perspective.

“Gerald, my ratio is pretty lopsided too….except mine is going 90/10.  That is 90% of the behavior you are seeing is Abbey’s attempt to avoid momentary pain (i.e.,  homework, putting clothes away) for pleasure.”

Takeaway Point

Gerald has been an all too willing fish, biting the bait whenever Abbey puts it on the hook.

Check out your ratios.

Maybe they are not what you think.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

Copyright, 2020 www.shutdownlearner.com
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email – rselznick615@gmail.com


The Frustration of Nonchalance

Synonyms for “nonchalance:”   apathy, complacence indifference, unconcern, torpor

Antonyms for “nonchalance:”  concerned, interested, motivated

A parent came to talk to me about her 13 year old son, Aaron.  Previously “diagnosed” with ADHD of the inattentive variety, various stimulant medications have been tried with him without much benefit.

“Look,” the mom said, “I don’t really know if he’s ADD, the doctor spent about 15 minutes with us. I do know he’s nonchalant.  It’s like he’s just indifferent and it’s driving me up the wall.”

(Wow…  “nonchalant”….that’s a word I don’t hear very often, certainly not used in clinical terms or descriptions.  It’s funny how words fall out of favor.)

Upon meeting Aaron, I know exactly what the mom is saying.  It was a very long hour trying to find out what his point of view was on the topic.  It’s not easy to talk to someone who shows, indifference, apathy unconcern and torpor (i.e., nonchalance).

Essentially, Aaron had little to say with a fair amount of shrugging.

“All he cares about is his Xbox,” his mom almost shouted in the session.

The mom’s frustration brought to mind a famous short story I had read many years ago by Herman Melville, called  “Bartleby, the Scrivener.”  (“Scrivener,” talk about a dated word.)

As I recall, Bartleby was the 19th century version of a paralegal working in a law office.  Whenever he was asked to do something by his office superior, Bartleby had a standard response – “I would prefer not to.”  Bartley basically did nothing and just stared out the window ignoring his boss with nonchalant indifference.

This, “I’d prefer not to,” position made Bartleby’s boss bonkers.

A mom of a 17 year old I am working with asked her son to stop what he was doing for about an hour to help pull weeds in preparation of some landscaping.

Now, of course, the 17 year old felt he  couldn’t help because he was engaged in a very important activity  (that he had been doing for the previous nine hours ) “Grand Theft Auto”  on his Xbox and he basically told her, “No, I’d prefer not to.”

With his stance her anger thermometer rapidly rose.

Psychologists and other behavioral types will have all kinds of systems to try and get the motivation going in the right direction, but it’s a tough battle.

If you have a Bartleby type my best advice is to try and side-step the control battles  that inevitably ensue, as challenging as this may be may be.

While not getting into a control battle, you could also say to your 17 year old Bartleby in very direct tones,  “Look, you either pull the weeds or I am going to lock your Xbox away in a our safe until you have done what I asked  to my satisfaction.  It’s your choice.”

Takeaway Point  

Go buy a safe if you don’t have one.

They come in handy when you need them.

Copyright, 2020 www.shutdownlearner.com
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email – rselznick615@gmail.com

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 https://shutdownlearner.com.


Getting “Buy-In” – Recharging the Battery

A major premise of “The Shut-Down Learner” is that children who are struggling  by degrees become discouraged over time.

Effectively for these children the air leaks out of the tire and it becomes increasingly difficult to motivate them.

They shut down.

Since much of my professional life involves assessing children while trying to get parents on board to understand their child’s issues, I find myself trying to cut into notions that parents hold that have been told to them, which may or may not be fully accurate.

For example, parents will maintain the notion that for kids with reading, spelling and writing problems, a remedial provider “must be certified” in a particular methodology, such as Orton-Gillingham (O-G) or Wilson to work with their child.

To counter this, I have known many very good O-G and Wilson providers over the years who were very competent, yet were not certified in these methods. They likely attended training workshops exposing them to the methods and they have logged in lots of years working with children with the methods, but they did not go the distance in obtaining the certification, which is another level of time and financial commitment.

From my perspective, perhaps a more important question to ask is whether the person providing  the remediation can get the child  to “buy-in” sufficiently to have his/her battery recharged so the child connects enough to  benefit from the remediation.

To illustrate the point, let’s use the example of young Frankie, a 9 year old fourth grader who detests reading, spelling and writing.   To call Frankie discouraged would be a significant understatement.

In the middle of second grade, Frankie’s parents brought him to a certified O-G instructor for private sessions.  The instructor was very knowledgeable and competent, but for some reason Frankie did not “buy-in.”

There was no connection between them and Frankie’s battery was never recharged.

After about a year or so of this, the parents pulled Frankie from the sessions.

They then heard of a teacher who was known to be knowledgeable in the field of reading disabilities and had good experience, but was not certified in either O-G or Wilson.

They brought Frankie to her and for indefinable reasons, he bought in and connected.

Going forward, Frankie rarely complained going to sessions as he had vigorously done previously.

Regardless of how well-trained a therapist or remedial teacher is, unless there is legitimate connection with “buy-in” on an emotional level, very little will take place.

Of course, certifications are important, but the message is be cautious.

If I had to choose, between a letter perfect therapist/tutor who was highly credentialed/certified compared to one who is reasonably experienced in the method and can get the connection going with the child,  I’m going with the latter.

There is an intangible aspect with “buy-in.”  How and why it happens is beyond objective analysis.

When it comes to success for remedial instruction such as with O-G programs or even therapeutic methods treating anxiety and depression this intangible, “buy-in,” accounts for a significant percentage of what makes for success.

Copyright, 2020 www.shutdownlearner.com
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email – rselznick615@gmail.com

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 https://shutdownlearner.com.


More From the Land of Low Frustration Tolerance

A while back we talked to you guys about a term that I made up called FID (Frustration Intolerance Disorder).

We offered suggestions as to how to address it ( Part II: Frustration Intolerance), but it looks like no one is listening, because I see the trend continuing.

Here are some of the hallmark features:

  • Small difficulty leading to large reactions.
  • Limited capacity to problem solve.
  • Weak coping.
  • Anticipation of task and shutting-down prior to starting (thinking that the task is too large to tackle).
  • Meltdowns

Take young Braden, age 7, a child I recently evaluated.  Sensing that Braden was one of these FID style kids, I tried to prep him prior to giving him certain tasks.  For example, when putting down the spelling page which has 40 lines on the page for potential words to spell, I informed Braden that he was only doing some of the words, not all of them (no one does them all).

“Braden,” I started,  “We’re going to spell some words on this page.  Now, don’t worry (I could see the storm clouds quickly brewing), you’re not going to be doing this whole page…I promise you.”

After about 10 words, Braden started to dramatically seize his hair while tensing up, “Oh my God,” he exclaimed, “We have to do all of these???” (Remember, I told him we weren’t.)

(I’m not sure how it became such a common phrase, but I hear young kids exclaiming, “Oh, my God,” a great deal expressing their personal exasperation.)

After evaluating Braden, I talk to his mom about some of his reactions and his low-level frustration tolerance.

Shaking her head showing me non-verbally that she totally understood what I was saying about his lack of frustration tolerance, she said, “I see it all the time.  We’re so worried about keeping the child happy that he almost never has to deal with frustration.  I see it in our house and his friends and cousins.  None of them can cope with the slightest difficulty.”

(It always helps me when the moms get it.)

From where I sit, too often these kids are quickly “diagnosed” ADD or ADHD. In fact, when a Braden style child is brought in to the physician’s office, it’s all but teed up to certify that the child has a medical condition, some neurobiological imbalance that is in need of treatment of a medical nature.

Hey, I get it. It’s a whole lot easier giving the kid his daily dose of Vyvanse or Concerta than having to deal with his reactions of exasperation and all of his,  “Oh, my ‘Godding’” reactions.   (In addition, as a side benefit with the “diagnosis,” a 504  Plan may get squeezed out of the school.)

I really don’t know what’s contributing to what I perceive to be an increase of kids who have low tolerance for frustration, but I have my suspicions.  In the way back machine there was a word that one doesn’t hear very often – “grit.”

How does one get grit?  Certainly, it does not come by making nice all of the time.

It also doesn’t come either by simply medicating it.

Grit is a skill (quality) that needs to be practiced over time.

When the child shows signs of working through his/her difficulty, notice it and offer a nice comment.  A simple, “That’s nice Braden – you really worked through it.”

You don’t need to go over the top with clapping and statements like, “You’re so amazing, Braden.”  Keep it mild and low key.

Stay with it.  Keep encouraging working through frustration and  your child will incrementally increase his ability to “tough it out.”

Copyright, 2019 www.shutdownlearner.com
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email – rselznick615@gmail.com

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 https://shutdownlearner.com.

Firming Up the Rudder

We recently wrote a post on “executive functioning.” (Previous Post on Executive Functioning)

As I have noted, I like to think of executive functioning as the rudder to a ship.  It’s the steering mechanism that helps you do stuff, like start tasks, finish tasks, stay-on-track, those sorts of things.

Some kids (adults, too) have pretty decent executive function traits, others do not.  It usually shakes out in a 65-35 % ratio based on my experience and understanding.  That is, about 35% of the kids have weak executive functioning.

On average (and I know I need to be tread very carefully here these days), the girls are killing the boys when it comes to executive functioning, although of course, there are plenty of girls who do not have well-developed internalized steering mechanisms.

This summer I am going for an in-depth training on executive functioning (I’ve had many previously) and I may be singing a different tune after updating my understanding, but I still don’t see executive functioning as something that can be “fixed.”  That is there is no fix or cure in the traditional sense of the word.

When I tell this to parents they look at me with that, “Come on man, we’re paying you for this stuff” stare of despair, like I am Dr. Gloom bringing them this horrible message of pessimism. (Welcome to my world.)

Of course, you can work on the skills that cluster with executive functioning, but it is a very lengthy, time-consuming, often expensive process that kids may be naturally resistant to undergo.  In fact, most of the time the kid doesn’t think he has any issue (other than his mom is on his back).

So much of the “fixing” comes down to a form of external assistance – I refer to it in my reports as “structuring, cueing and guiding.”

In other words the teacher or the parent provides a certain level of external assistance that helps to get the kid on track on any given task.

Take Marla, an 11 year old I saw recently.  The mom noted up front that Marla had executive function issues (mostly she was right in my opinion).  When I met Marla, she had that dreamy, cloudy way of approaching tasks (“Wait, what did you say, again?  Can you repeat that?”) and it was clear she needed a lot of structuring, cueing and guiding.

The thing is if too much external structuring is given to a girl like Marla, she will get very dependent on it and not try and figure things out on her own.

On the other hand if I am working with Marla and maintain a strict posture of, “You’re 11 – you need to grow up and do it on your own,” this is also probably not the best approach.

While testing Marla, I frequently gave her what I refer to as the “hairy eyeball.”  For example, when I asked Marla  a math word problem like, “There are 12 ducks on the pond and 5 flew away, how many were left,” with her hastily responding “8,”  I gave her that  look that conveyed that she needed to try again.

Without the look, or cue, Marla would have been very likely accepted 8 as the answer without thinking twice about it.

Takeaway Point

Structuring  and other external nudges are essential with these kids.  Sure, it would be nice if they can do it on their own, but you have to meet the kid where he/she is instead of wishing it were so.  If your child is in the 35-40% category find that sweet-spot of providing enough external structure or support to help keep them on track and to take incremental steps toward greater independence.

Copyright, 2019 www.shutdownlearner.com
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email – rselznick615@gmail.com

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 https://shutdownlearner.com.

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 www.shutdownlearner.com
Questions or topics email Dr. Selznick.  Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email – rselznick615@gmail.com

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 https://shutdownlearner.com.

Practicing an Academy

It may not be the best time of the year to start one, but right after the New Year, how about you try an “Academy” with your child.

Some time ago I went to a training given by the psychologist Ray Levy who talked about the use of “Academies” to address challenging behaviors.

Linked to specific skills that need to be practiced and internalized, “Academies” help to give you a specific focus with your child.  The Academies can be academic or non-academic.  For example, you might want to practice a, “Waiting On Line Academy,” if your child is one of those types who pushes and runs around when he is supposed to be patiently waiting on line.  (I know my wife wants me to practice a “Making the Bed Academy.”)

Here’s an example of an Academy that can be practiced that bothers me a lot with kids – knowing their address.  I’ve talked about it before (What’s My Address? ), but most of the kids I work with (I would say nearly 95%) do not know their address in its entirety (yes, including the zip code, as quaint as that concept may be).

In fact, when asked to write their address, a typical reaction is a look of confusion – as many don’t know what the word “address” means and they don’t know how to get started.  I usually need to back-pedal a little and say something like, “You know – it’s where you live.”

That back pedaling doesn’t help that much in terms of their coming up with the address.   They may get some part of the address, like a number and a street name, but town and state, forget about it.

I know.  I know.  I can hear the parental chorus of, “But, he’s dyslexic.  He can’t possibly write it.”  Or, “My ADHD child will never sit long enough to learn something as boring as an address.”

I have worked with thousands of “dyslexics” and those diagnosed with ADHD and I am here to bring you the good news – yes, they can learn their address if you think it is of value for them to learn it.  It may take a bit longer than the child who does not have dyslexia or “ADHD,” but they will be able to learn it.

If you think your child should know his/her address (I certainly do) steel your nerve, roll up you sleeves and start a Learn Your Address Writing Academy. Understand that the Academy will cut into their Fortnight playing on XBox, but so be it.

Here’s a sample of what you can say to your child to get the Academy started:

“Listen, George.  We need to talk.  (Sit child down in a quiet area of the house.)  It’s come to my attention that you don’t know where you live. You don’t know your address.  I know you’re dying to play Fortnight and get on your Xbox, but this week as part of the homework period time we are going to have what I call an Address Writing Academy.  That is you are going to practice writing your address and be able to write it without my helping you.   It might take us a while for you to learn it, but that’s ok.”

“Here’s the good news.  If you practice writing your address without all of the complaining and crying that you often do around homework, then you can have free play and go off and play your video games.  But the bad news is, if you don’t give it an honest try and just whine, cry and complain, then you just haven’t earned screen time tonight. It’s your choice.”

I would predict that if you say this to your child calmly and directly, that by the end of the week, he will have mastered the skill of learning to write his address.

After he’s mastered writing his address you can go move on to a, “Putting Your Clothes Away Academy,” or a “Bed Making Academy.”

Takeaway Point

“Academies” are great vehicles for learning specific skills. Link them with a positive such as earned screen time as well as a consequence – e.g., loss of screen time – it’s all in the attitude.

Copyright, 2018 www.shutdownlearner.com
Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email – rselznick615@gmail.com
To receive free newsletter and updates, go to: www.shutdownlearner.com.

Questions or topics that you want covered in future blogs, send email to: rselznick615@gmail.com.

The “One & Done” Child

There’s a certain kind of a child I see quite often I have come to call the, “One and Done Child.”

What are some of the hallmark features of these children?

These children lack what the shrink types refer to as “self-monitoring.”  That is, they aren’t oriented to checking themselves too readily.  Typically, when given a task (no matter what the task is), they complete it and pronounce, “done,” fairly hastily with little awareness as to whether their efforts are accurate or not.

Let’s take Katie, a nine year old girl I saw recently.  One of my favorite tests is one that has the child copy an increasingly complex series of shapes and designs.  The child isn’t given any direction beyond asking her to copy the shapes and designs.  The pencil they are given to copy the shapes has an eraser.

Well, Katie completed the copying in a fairly hurried, “done” style, as each design was copied in about two seconds flat whether it was simple or complex.  She treated each design as if they all were of equal weight of difficulty.

Imagine given a simple square to copy.  Pretty easy.  Done in two seconds.  Well what if the design was a complex three-dimensional figure.  Compared to the two seconds it takes to copy the square, it would stand to reason that a complex 3-D design would take much more time to complete, more thought and consideration.

Not for Katie.  Each design was the same – two to three seconds and “done.”  There was no erasing, no attempt to improve a design. Needless to say the more complex designs certainly were not copied very accurately, but Katie showed no awareness of the lack of accuracy, no capacity to monitor herself.

When explaining this style to Katie’s mom, she asked me whether I thought it was because she  is “impulsive” (With the subtext of does she have ADHD and should she be put on medication?”).

I said, “I think it’s more a style, a way that she approaches tasks, a habit she’s gotten herself into. These tasks require a certain amount of thought and self-reflection and she’s just not oriented that way.    It’s like these “One & Done” kids lack an internal voice, something that goes like this, ‘Hmmm., let me look this over to see how accurate I am.  Maybe I’m not done yet.’ Katie doesn’t have that voice running through her head.”

I know.  What’s the solution?

I wish there was an easy one.  Most of the time the parents (well, the moms) are just badgering these kids to, “check your work…check your work…check your work,” while the kid’s eyeballs are snapping in his/her head.  The last thing a Katie style kid wants to do is check her work.

I do think in the hand of a good tutor/teacher who understands this phenomenon, the child can be sensitized to become more reflective and more considered in approach over time.  Effectively, such a teacher would be saying something like, “Hold on, maybe we need to look that over more carefully.  What do we need to do before we say we’re done?”

A child is much more likely to be receptive to such a teacher than listen to a parent.

Takeaway Point

“One and Done Kids” are tough to manage.  So, even though it will you cost you some money find yourself a good tutor to start chiseling away at this habit of being “one and done.”

Copyright, 2018 www.shutdownlearner.com
Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email – rselznick615@gmail.com
To receive free newsletter and updates, go to: www.shutdownlearner.com.

Questions or topics that you want covered in future blogs, send email to: rselznick615@gmail.com

The Pacing of Things

Sometimes it’s not easy being a kid.  This is especially true if your brain works at a pace that is qualitatively different (i.e., slower) than the other kids around you or than the expectations that are being put upon you.

Take Jordan, a 10 year old fourth grader.  Jordan’s already on a stimulant medication, having been “diagnosed” with ADHD.  For Jordan keeping up was a constant challenge, even with the medication.

For almost every task that he did, it took Jordan double, triple or even quadruple the amount of time that one might expect for the given task.

His teachers always attributed Jordan’s poor class performance as “just not focused enough” or “not paying attention.”

We worked with Jordan for over three hours and there was never a time that I thought he was not paying attention, but there was a pervasive quality of inefficiency to the way he went about things.  This was true whether he was copying designs or shapes, remembering a series of numbers, answering different questions or solving problems. Across the board Jordan was inefficient.

It was less that he was distractible, but more a matter of Jordan’s internal clock speed.  In other words, Jordan had significantly slow “R.P.M.s” (revolutions per minute, as in a car engine).

Parents always want to know what to do about the Jordans of the world and their slow clock speed.  They feel beleaguered by the difficulty in getting homework finished and undergoing the nightly ritual of frustration.

They frequently ask, “How do we fix it?”

I wish I could send parents to the equivalent of the “Jiffy Lube Brain Shop,” to fix the problem, but  to date I haven’t known any to deliver  on their claims (even though there are lots of programs out there very willing to part you from your hard earned money).

There are few things I would be thinking about relative to a Jordan type:

First, I would politely move the teacher away from the “not paying attention” perspective and talk to her about “clock speed,” in the hope that she can accommodate Jordan so he’s not being penalized.  It would seem (at least from where I sit) that as long as Jordan is putting forth good effort, then he should not receive bad grades.

Jordan should also not have to take all kinds of work home that he could not complete in class.  (If Jordan had a bad leg he wouldn’t be held accountable for not running fast enough).  That would seem to be unfairly punitive.

Jordan’s parents also need to make sure they aren’t on his back too much, as these kids will pull for a lot of negative parental attention.

The parental mindset would be something like, “Jordan, you give us a solid hour (or whatever us reasonable for your child’s particular age and grade) with good effort and we will talk to the teacher about not getting penalized.”

Finally, the Jordan types usually are very disorganized and lack an internal sense of structure.  Sit down with him before he starts his work and map out (with him) in a simple list how he should proceed with his work.

Then set a timer and when the session is done, Jordan is free to go do what he wants.

Then pour yourself a drink and forget about it. 


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Slow “Clock Speed” & “RPMs” – “My kid is making me crazy.”

I evaluated a middle school kid recently who was recently “diagnosed” with ADHD.  You know the drill.  The school told parents that, “We’re not doctors and can’t diagnose, but we think you should see your child’s doctor.”

(Translation:  “Go to your doctor now and get your child on medication.”)

The parents went to their doctor, filled out some rating scales along with other forms and left with a “diagnosed” child, prescription in hand.

The parents were not ready to jump on that diagnosis, feeling that there were other issues that were not being addressed with the medication approach

Upon evaluating their daughter, what struck me was the tempo with which she completed so many of the tasks given to her.

For example, on a spatial task that had a two minute upper end time limit, Jenna concentrated hard  while trying to figure out the solution to the problem, it took her over eight minutes – quadruple the upper end limit of the test.

While reading, Jenna struggled with some of the larger words, but the biggest issue was the slow, labored manner in which she read out loud, again at a rate probably four times longer than average.

Even when Jenna was asked a question such as, “How many states are there in the United States,” Jenna was noted to take up to 60 seconds to come up with a vague answer

From my perspective, Jenna’s internal “clock speed” relative to her characteristic approach to solving problems, answering questions, or reading or was significantly slower than average.  I conveyed this imagery to Jenna’s parents to help them understand what was going on with her.

Along with using the image of “clock speed,” I like to explain these issues akin to “RPM”s (i.e., revolutions per minute in terms of a car’s engine, as in, “Your child has very slow RPMs”)

There is no legitimate fix (there are lots of illegitimate ones) that can alter sluggish clock speed or “slow RPMs.”

Keeping this in mind, here are some pointers that may help:

  1. We tend to get irritated with these children. We want them to hurry up and when they don’t they get yelled at a lot.  Really, it’s  like yelling at someone with a heel spur to run faster – no can do.
  1. Hard as it may be, try and keep an honest and open dialogue with your child.  You might even try referring to images such as “clock speed” or “RPMs.”  “Jenna, you have a very slow clock speed, and we need to find other ways of getting things done.  Let’s break the assignment down into smaller parts.”
  1. Get the teacher on board. Stay away from clinical terminology and use plain language. (“Jenna works at three to four times slower on average on most tasks.”)
  1. If you try medication, fine, perhaps it will help. However, recognize that things are rarely as simplistic as the “we got the diagnosis” mentality would suggest.

Takeaway Point

Children with slow internal clock speed or RPMs are often misunderstood and frequently punished or yelled at because of their characteristic way of interacting with academic tasks, as well as in “real life.”  Reminding yourself and sensitizing others that your child is not working slowly on purpose would be very supportive.


For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email – contact@shutdownlearner.com.

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