EF skills

Learning with Executive Dysfunction—How Graphic Organizers Can Help

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By Olivia Rogers, MA, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist, NESCA

When it comes to executive dysfunction, we often see students struggle with the organization of language. This presents differently in each student, but may be seen as difficulty comprehending information, and getting ideas out of their heads and organized into words or on paper. They might recognize the words when listening or reading, but they hit a wall when it comes to making sense of the message or describing it. This often results in students feeling lost, confused, and overwhelmed.

When students struggle to organize language and grasp concepts independently in the classroom, we need to break it down and teach it differently. Graphic organizers help us to do so.

What is a graphic organizer?

Graphic organizers are tools that use visual symbols to express knowledge, concepts, thoughts, or ideas, and the relationships between them. The main purpose of a graphic organizer is to provide a visual aid to facilitate learning and instruction. They help students see visually what is expected of them, what they should focus on, and break complex tasks down for them.

What does the evidence show?

There is plenty of evidence demonstrating the benefits of using graphic organizers. The results of most studies have voiced the positive effects of graphic organizers in mainly comprehension and writing, in addition to remembering course content. One such study recommended the use of graphic organizers for teaching expository text structures with students to improve reading comprehension. A popular strategy to help students understand expository texts is to teach the various types of text structures: cause-and-effect, compare/contrast, problem/solution, etc. When students know the underlying organization of the information, it helps them create a working model of it in their minds, resulting in a better understanding and ability to recall. (Pyle et al., 2017). Another study sought to investigate how pre-writing activities based on graphic organizers, such as webs, and beginning, middle and end charts, affect the overall quality of student writing. The results of the study indicate that using appropriate pre-writing strategies based on graphic organizers and giving enough time for the students lead to better quality writing (Servati, 2012).

How are Graphic Organizers Used in Speech Language Therapy?

1. Graphic Organizers Help Students Focus

Many students exhibit disorganized thinking processes, poor initiation skills, word recall difficulties, poor attention, and decreased task endurance. These weaknesses can impact a student’s ability to get started on a project, organize a writing assignment, or even complete a math task. Graphic organizers help students access prior knowledge and get them actively engaged in learning.

2. Graphic Organizers Provide a Visual Map and Help Clarify Abstract Concepts

Have you ever had so much information that you couldn’t hold onto it all? Graphic organizers bring together large pieces of information and tie the relationships together. The concepts and linguistic relationships flow better and make sense to students.

3. Graphic Organizers Help Build Vocabulary

Students benefit from graphic organizers as they expand their word knowledge and make connections. Graphic organizers are great for teaching concepts like descriptive adjectives, antonyms/synonyms, items in a category, part/whole relationships, and definitions.

4. Graphic Organizers Improve Expressive Language

Graphic organizers support oral and written language in all areas of academic learning. Some students have difficulty creating pictures in their head, retrieving words to verbalize their ideas, and putting their thoughts in order. Utilizing a graphic organizer can help students when they need to present information orally or develop a draft for writing.



Architects For Learning. (2022, May 18). Helping students manage what’s hard about school and thrive as life-long learners. Retrieved June 21, 2022, from https://www.architectsforlearning.com/students-parents/about-us/

Erwin, L. (2017, May 26). 5 reasons to use graphic organizers in speech therapy. My Speech Tools. Retrieved June 21, 2022, from https://myspeechtools.blogspot.com/2017/05/5-reasons-you-should-use-graphic-organizers-speech-therapy-sessions.html

Servati, Katrina, “Prewriting Strategies and their Effect on Student Writing” (2012). Education Masters. Paper 242. https://fisherpub.sjfc.edu/education_ETD_masters/242

Sherman, H. (2017, December 23). Using Graphic Organizers is Essential in Speech Therapy. Speech Time Fun Speech and Language Activities. Retrieved June 21, 2022, from https://speechtimefun.com/using-graphic-organizers-is-essential-in-speech-therapy/

Pyle, N., Vasquez, A. C., Lignugaris, K., & B., Gillam, S.L., Reutzel, D.R., Olszewski, A., Segura, H., Hartzheim, D., Laing, W., and Pyle, D. (2017). Effects of expository text structure interventions on comprehension: A meta-analysis. Reading Research Quarterly, 52(5), 1–33. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1002/ rrq. 179


About the Author

Olivia Rogers received her Master of Arts in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Maine, after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Sciences and Disorders and concentrations in Childhood Development and Disability Studies. She holds a Certificate of Clinical Competence in speech-language pathology from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, as well as a professional license in speech-language pathology from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Ms. Rogers has experience working both in the pediatric clinic setting as well as in public schools, evaluating and treating children 2-18 years of age presenting with a wide range of diagnoses (e.g., language delays and disorders, speech sound disorders, childhood apraxia of speech, autism spectrum disorder, social communication disorder, and Down syndrome). Ms. Rogers enjoys making sure therapy is fun and tailored to each client’s interests.

In her free time, she enjoys listening to podcasts and spending times with friends and families.


Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.


To book an appointment with Olivia Rogers, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.


Therapeutic Toy Guide to Promote Skill-building

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Jessica Hanna MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist, NESCA

It’s that time of year when parents and loved ones are looking for the perfect gift. As pediatric occupational therapists, we are often asked about our recommendations for the best toys and activities that encourage learning and the development of specific skills. During an occupational therapy session, toys and games are used with people across the life span for many reasons. The biggest reason is to bring joy and develop confidence while simultaneously working on skill-building in areas that require getting and maintaining attention in an effort to improve and develop independence in functional tasks.

Play and exploration of games and toys are for those of all ages. The right toy and game can be used to develop new skills and strengthen and refine learned skills.

Skills addressed through play and active exploration:

  • Attention and concentration
  • Balance
  • Coordination skills
  • Core strength
  • Executive functioning
  • Emotional regulation
  • Fine motor skills
  • Gross motor skills
  • Handwriting
  • Imaginative play
  • Motor planning
  • Sensory motor needs
  • Visual perceptual skills

How many times have you endlessly scrolled online looking for the best-fit gift, wondering if it will be one more item that ends up collecting dust on a shelf? How often do you wish a toy store existed like when we were kids, instead of walking down the same small toy aisle at the local department store and leaving with nothing? Or having to weed through page after page of online stores and catalogs?

Below is a helpful guide to therapeutic games and toys that focus on a couple of specific skill areas. Most of the games included can fall into more than one skill area, depending on how it’s used.

Coordination Skills – Skills that help develop body control and awareness. Bilateral coordination is the ability to use both sides of your body together in a coordinated way, and hand-eye coordination is when the eyes guide the hands in movement.

3 + years

  • EleFun (Hasbro)
  • Feed the Woozle
  • Kids Magnetic Fishing Games (iPlay, iLearn)
  • Instrument toys
  • Marble Run
  • Target activities
  • The Yoga Garden Game
  • Wooden Balance Board
  • Zoom Ball

6 + years

  • Bob it
  • BucketBall
  • Kan Jam
  • Klask
  • Rev balance board
  • Ring Toss
  • Simon
  • Spike Ball
  • Throw the Burrito
  • Twister

Executive Functioning Skills The ability to sustain attention, organize and plan, initiate and complete, problem solve and regulate emotions.

3 + years

  • Bee Genius (MUKIKIM)
  • Bunny Hop (Educational Insights)
  • Cootie
  • Create-A-Burger (Lakeshore)
  • Dino Escape
  • Don’t Break the Ice
  • Frankie’s Food Truck Fiasco Game
  • iPlay, iLearn Kids Magnetic Fishing Games
  • Hoot Owl Hoot
  • Movement Memory

 6+ years

  • Battleship
  • Checkers
  • Chess
  • DogPile
  • Distraction
  • Gravity Maze
  • Life Junior
  • Monopoly
  • Outfoxed
  • Rush Hour (Think Fun)

Fine Motor Skills – The ability to control the small muscles of the hands and fingers. Fine motor development contains many components. Some of those areas include pincer and pre-writing grasp development, hand strength, wrist stability, motor control, and separation of the sides of the hand.

3 + years

  • Alphabet Learning Locks
  • Bee Genius
  • Duplo Sets
  • Forest Friends Playset (Lakeshore)
  • Light table pegs and pegboard (Lakeshore)
  • Magnet Alphabet Maze
  • Noodle Knockout!
  • Pegcasso Build and Drill
  • Poke-a-Dot: Old MacDonald’s Farm
  • Pop the Pig
  • Woodpecker feeding game (iPlay, iLearn)
  • Snap Dinos (Lakeshore)

6+ years

  • Frankie’s Food Truck Fiasco Game
  • LEGOs
  • Light Brite
  • LiquiPen (Yoya Toys)
  • Mancala
  • Kanoodle
  • Operation
  • Perfection
  • Pictionary
  • Scratch Art
  • Shelby’s Snack Shack Game
  • Trouble

Sensory Play – The opportunity to receive sensory input through play. It can foster listening skills and body awareness, encourage tactile exploration and risk-taking, and promote a calming and alert state of being.

3+ years

  • Bean bags
  • Kinetic Sand
  • Monkey Noodle
  • What’s in Ned’s Head?
  • Playdoh
  • Pop Fidgets
  • Squishmellos
  • Scooter boards
  • Sit and Spin
  • Trampoline

6 + years

  • Aromatherapy
  • Bubble tubes
  • Color mix sensory tubes
  • Doorway Sensory Swing Kit (DreamGym Store)
  • Thinking Putty (scented/glow in the dark)
  • Tent
  • Tunnel
  • Water Beads
  • Weighted blanket
  • LiquiPen (Yoya Toys)

Visual Perception Skills – The ability to make sense of what is being seen. Skills are used to copy information from a board, manipulate items, identify, read, recall info, visually locate things, and write.

3 + years

  • Alphabet Bingo
  • CandyLand
  • Chutes and Ladders
  • Fox in the Box
  • Honeybee Tree
  • Magnatiles
  • Spot-it
  • Pete the Cat- I Love My Buttons Game
  • Puzzles
  • Zingo (Think Fun)

6+ years

  • Connect Four
  • DogPile
  • Guess Who
  • Jenga
  • Kanoodle
  • Klask
  • Let’s Go Code
  • Mancala
  • Perfection
  • Pixy Cubes

This list is just the tip of the iceberg of the many toys and games you will come across. Many toys and games can be therapeutically and easily graded to any individual, no matter the age. The trick is to find the just-right challenge to work on the skill area desired through fun and motivating means. We recommend reaching out to your occupational therapist if you require assistance with either new or older games and toys and how to create the just-right challenge for your child.


About the Author

Jessica Hanna has over 10 years of pediatric OT experience in conducting assessments and providing treatment of children and adolescents with a broad range of challenges and disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders, sensory processing disorders, visual impairments, cerebral palsy, executive function deficits and developmental disorders of motor function. Prior to joining NESCA, Jessica trained and worked in a variety of settings, including inpatient and outpatient hospital settings, private practice, schools and homes. She has served on interdisciplinary treatment teams and worked closely with schools, medical staff and other service providers in coordinating care. In addition, Jessica provided occupational therapy services at Perkins School for the Blind and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital pediatric inpatient unit, where she conducted comprehensive evaluations and interventions for children with a broad range of presentations.


To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.


Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.


The Power of a List

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Yvonne M. Asher, Ph.D. 
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

For so many children, adolescents, and young adults, I find myself recommending something that seems too simple to be of much use – a list. The power of lists has been identified and described in depth by several experts, such as Atul Gawande (The Checklist Manifesto – an excellent read). These books often discuss efficiency in the workplace, health and safety practices, and maintaining consistency in products or services. As adults, these are the things we often care about – ensuring that we are efficient, consistent, and getting things done.

In my practice, I recommend lists for different reasons. I recommend lists to teach executive functioning skills, such as planning, task initiation, organization, and task monitoring. Lists are also incredibly helpful for children who struggle to hold on to information. These children often miss information that is stated aloud, such as a parent giving directions or a teacher explaining instructions. Their brains often struggle to “keep up” with the pace of information presented in the world. Having the information written down in an organized manner, such a list, can help them access the information without time constraints.

Here is a quick example:

On a typical weekday morning, parents alternate checking on their 8-year-old as he gets ready for school. They give reminders of all the things left to do – “Brush your teeth!” “Get dressed!” “Put your homework in your backpack!” Time before the bus becomes shorter and shorter, as does everyone’s patience. Parents think, “We do the same things every single morning! Why is it so hard for him to remember?” Child thinks, “Why can’t they just leave me alone!” Voice volumes increase, tone shifts, and before anyone knows it or means to, there is a shouting match as the bus is pulling up.

Of course, a list won’t stop hurt feelings or eliminate frustration. However, if the child’s “morning routine” is posted somewhere easy to see, he may need far fewer reminders from his parents of all the tasks he has left to do. Frustration may be reduced, and the child can feel successful completing tasks with greater independence.

A list may be steps in a routine, as illustrated above. A list could also be of materials the child needs for baseball practice, the chores that should be done each week, or the limits and expectations around “screen time.” I often spend time with parents discussing the contents of a list, where the list should be placed, and the format it might take. For example, do you want checkboxes next to each item? Do you want the steps to be numbered? Maybe you love arts and crafts, and you want to laminate the list and have Velcro tabs with a “checkmark” that can be placed next to each completed task. The format and purpose vary, but lists are infinitely useful.

For many children, practice using lists is not only helping them to build skills in the moment, but is excellent practice for later life. Developing comfort with the tools and strategies that work best for you is an invaluable aspect of raising our children to become independent adults who can achieve their goals.


About the Author

Dr. Yvonne M. Asher enjoys working with a wide range of children and teens, including those with autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays, learning disabilities, attention difficulties and executive functioning challenges. She often works with children whose complex profiles are not easily captured by a single label or diagnosis. She particularly enjoys working with young children and helping parents through their “first touch” with mental health care or developmental concerns.

Dr. Asher’s approach to assessment is gentle and supportive, and recognizes the importance of building rapport and trust. When working with young children, Dr. Asher incorporates play and “games” that allow children to complete standardized assessments in a fun and engaging environment.

Dr. Asher has extensive experience working in public, charter and religious schools, both as a classroom teacher and psychologist. She holds a master’s degree in education and continues to love working with educators. As a psychologist working in public schools, she gained invaluable experience with the IEP process from start to finish. She incorporates both her educational and psychological training when formulating recommendations to school teams.

Dr. Asher attended Swarthmore College and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She completed her doctoral degree at Suffolk University, where her dissertation looked at the impact of starting middle school on children’s social and emotional wellbeing. After graduating, she completed an intensive fellowship at the MGH Lurie Center for Autism, where she worked with a wide range of children, adolescents and young adults with autism and related disorders.


Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.


To book an appointment with Dr. Yvonne Asher, please complete our Intake Form today. For more information about NESCA, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.