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executive function demands

Why a Task is Never “Just a Simple Task” – a compassionate perspective on executive functioning difficulties

By | Nesca Notes 2023

By Jasmine Badamo, MA
Educational Counselor; Executive Function Tutor

I’ve often experienced the frustration of a student being given a task–whether it be at home or school–and struggling to complete it. Teachers and parents alike have said to me, “I just don’t understand why they can’t get it done. It’s a simple task.” I’d like to challenge the concept of a “simple task.” Once we begin to dig beneath the surface, we start to see all the hidden demands that every task requires of us and our brains.

As a trained Special Education teacher and executive function coach, I was taught to search for the hidden demands in the academic tasks I give my students. For example, asking a student to write a story about a time they were sad involves a multitude of mini-tasks that present varying levels of challenge depending on the student and their learning needs:

  • Recognize what sad feels like to you
  • Activate your memories to recall a time you felt what sad feels like to you
  • Remember the order of events of a memory that may be more visceral than cerebral
  • Determine which details are important vs. less important to include in your story
  • Decide who your audience is, and remember what the purpose of this story is
  • Perspective take and infer what would make your story interesting to your audience
  • Identify words that will accurately convey your experience to your audience
  • Utilize your knowledge of grammar, spelling, and punctuation to craft intelligible writing
  • Understand and implement a proper story arc so that your story flows

All of this is not even including the related emotional demands:

  • Decide if you’re even motivated to do this, and if your relationship with your teacher is worth all this headache
  • Manage the frustration that comes up at every.single.step.along.the.way.
  • Self-soothe when your insecurities bubble up and you start to question your identity as a writer, student, and/or good person

Oh wait, you thought we were done? There is also a myriad of executive function demands such a task places on a student:

  • Understanding the steps you needs to take, and determining where to start
  • Motivating yourself to take the first step despite feeling extremely stuck
  • Deciding which parts of the writing process to prioritize and spend more time on
  • Knowing how long this will take you, and managing your time respectively
  • Maintaining focus on a task that involves doing the most laborious and LEAST interesting thing a teacher could ask you to do…write
  • Managing the impulse to turn to your friend next to you and talk about what you’re really interested in, which is obviously Minecraft

The above lists are far from comprehensive, and even so, they help demonstrate how a “simple” task is in fact a much more complex–and demanding–series of mini-tasks to complete. Depending on the student, they may easily breeze through these mini-tasks, hardly experiencing them as demands, or they may acutely feel the weight of each mini-task. Students with executive function struggles are more likely to fall into the latter category.

While the best way to support your student or child will vary, the first step is the same for everyone: awareness. The more aware teachers and parents can be about the hidden demands involved in the tasks we assign, the better prepared we can be to support students in overcoming those demands. Acknowledgement and compassion go a long way. Start by reflecting on all the mini-tasks involved in each of your own daily activities, and your ability to identify hidden demands will steadily improve. You can extend this new self-awareness to your students or child, helping them to understand that every task contains a series of smaller steps to follow, and all these steps can make a task feel complicated and draining. Soon, both you and your child will be pros at seeing what lies beneath the surface, and you’ll never label something “a simple task” again!

If today’s post resonates with you or your child, consider reaching out to NESCA; we’re here to help with life’s “simple” tasks! For more information about NESCA’s executive function coaching, visit: https://nesca-newton.com/coaching-services/detailed/#coaching-executive-function.

 

About the Author

Jasmine Badamo, MA, is an educational counselor and executive function coach who works full-time at NESCA supporting students ranging from elementary school through young adulthood. In addition to direct client work, Ms. Badamo provides consultation and support to parents and families in order to help change dynamics within the household and/or support the special education processes for students struggling with executive dysfunction. She also provides expert consultation to educators, special educators and related professionals.

Ms. Badamo is a New York State Certified ENL and Special Education teacher. She has more than 10 years of teaching experience across three countries and has worked with students and clients ranging in age from 7 to adulthood. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from Cornell University and her master’s degree in TESOL from CUNY Hunter College. She has also participated in graduate coursework focusing on academic strategies and executive function supports for students with LD, ADHD, and autism as part of the Learning Differences and Neurodiversity (LDN) certification at Landmark College’s Institute for Research and Training. In addition to being a native English speaker, Ms. Badamo is also conversationally fluent in verbal and written Spanish.

Having worked in three different New York City public schools, Ms. Badamo has seen firsthand the importance of executive function skills in facilitating student confidence and success. Her coaching and consultation work focuses on creating individualized supports based on the specific needs and strengths of each client and supporting the development of metacognition (thinking about one’s own thought processes and patterns), executive function skills, and independence. She will guide clients to generate their own goals, identify the barriers to their goals, brainstorm potential strategies, advocate for support when needed, and reflect on the effectiveness of their applied strategies.

Ms. Badamo is a highly relational coach. Building an authentic connection with each client is a top priority and allows her to provide the best support possible. Additionally, as a teacher and coach, Ms. Badamo believes in fostering strong collaborations with anyone who supports her clients including service providers, classroom teachers, parents, administrators, and community providers.

 

To book executive function coaching with Jasmine Badamo or another EF or Real-life Skills Coach at NESCA, complete NESCA’s online intake form

 

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