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.

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.


ADHD: Setting Up A Successful Environment

By | NESCA Notes 2020

Co-authored by: Lauren Zeitler, MSOT, OTR/L, NESCA Occupational Therapist; Feeding Specialist, and Lindsay Delling, OTS, Occupational Therapy Graduate Student

Before any assessments, treatment planning, or suggestions of adaptations take place, we must first understand what attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in childhood means, and how it may present and affect each individual child. The American Psychiatric Association defines ADHD as one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders affecting children, with symptoms including, “inattention (not being able to keep focus), hyperactivity (excess movement that is not fitting to the setting) and impulsivity (hasty acts that occur in the moment without thought)” (2017). There are three different types of ADHD: inattentive type, hyperactive/impulsive type, or combined type, that come with specific criteria within each to provide a diagnosis. While some symptoms of ADHD are common amongst young children, such as difficulty sitting still or limited attention spans, the difference in children with ADHD is the inability to control it without external forces providing regulation for them. This blog post will outline the sensory systems and will provide environmental suggestions and adaptations for children with ADHD to help them succeed and increase focus!

It is estimated that 8.4% of children have ADHD; so, that being said, what can we as occupational therapists recommend to enhance attention and regulatory strategies in children with ADHD using the sensory systems as a guide?

  1. Touch – Children with ADHD may actually scientifically benefit from utilizing fidget toys to increase their attention to a task. This thought process comes from the fact that using a fidget toy, such as a fidget spinner or some putty, allows children to exert some energy while also keeping their hands busy. This then makes them more likely to attend to another task, such as listening to a teacher speak, because they have sustained alertness while working with the fidget toy and can therefore sustain attention to the overarching task. We have seen this in most people on a smaller scale as they twirl their hair or tap a pen while attending to a task; they are essentially using these items as fidget toys to enhance their alertness and sustain attention to the task at hand (CHADD, 2021). The same can be said for a wiggle seat cushion or chair to promote seated movement so the child can gain that sensory input of movement, while staying seated and attending to the task.
  2. Sight – Because children with ADHD exhibit hyperactive tendencies, this means that they are likely hypersensitive to lighting and types of lighting within environments, such as fluorescent lighting which is prevalent in many school systems. Providing children with ADHD breaks from this harsh light and allowing time for their eyes to relax is a great way to promote improved attention throughout the school day. Hypersensitivity in sight is also important to be aware of regarding any schoolwork a child may be doing. If there is a lot going on within the page, a child with ADHD can become easily overwhelmed and may be quick to abandon the activity due to overstimulation. Covering portions of the page so that the child can only see one activity at time may be helpful in keeping them focused and on track and will likely decrease frustration.
  3. Hearing – Due to the hypersensitive nature of children with ADHD, sounds can be very distracting for them when they are trying to focus on a task. One solution would, of course, be to find a quiet space for them to complete schoolwork and other activities. This, however, may not always be readily available or even an option. In that case, providing these children with other adaptations, such as noise cancelling headphones, while they complete their work or even just frequent noise breaks and allowing them to take a walk or play with a preferred item can be great alternatives in promoting sustained attention in a noisy environment!
  4. Smell – Just like the other senses, certain smells can also become overwhelming and even distracting for some children with ADHD. This can happen for many reasons, such as smells of food reminding them how hungry they are at school, smells that make them think of a certain memory that promotes daydreaming, or even simply gross smells that the child cannot seem to get their mind off of. To promote sustained attention and a calming effect with children with ADHD, essential oils can be a good option to trial! While they are not scientifically proven to directly help with symptoms of ADHD, they are proven to ease anxiety and stress, which can occur with ADHD. Scents such as lavender, vetiver, and chamomile are known for their stress-relieving abilities that promote relaxation and serenity within the body.
  5. Taste – Snacks…a fun way to wrap up this post! Similar to fidget toys, crunchy snacks can also provide attention-enhancing qualities when eaten during a time where sustained attention is necessary. The child will be focused on the task of chewing the crunchy item, such as carrot sticks, an apple, or some chips, and will therefore be present in the moment and better able to attend to the task going on around them. This strategy can be used in a variety of settings where eating is appropriate – school, home, tutoring, etc. And, it’s a fun contribution to the repertoire of strategies to enhance attention and self-regulation strategies!

As always, we recommend reaching out to your occupational therapist or getting an occupational therapy evaluation. Contact NESCA’s Director of Clinical Services Julie Robinson, OT, to learn more at: jrobinson@nesca-newton.com.





Lauren Zeitler is a licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in pediatric occupational and feeding therapy. Ms. Zeitler joined NESCA full-time in the fall of 2020 to offer occupational therapy assessment and treatment for children of all ages, as well as to work in conjunction with Abigael Gray, MS, CCC-SLP, on the feeding team.


Lindsay Delling is a graduate student at Regis College working toward obtaining her master’s degree in occupational therapy. She previously completed fieldwork at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown and many school-based settings before coming to finish her fieldwork with NESCA. Prior to graduate school, Lindsay worked with children with disabilities in the Boston Public School system, as well as in a special education preschool setting in her hometown. Lindsay is open to working with many different populations once she completes her degree.


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.


Simple Executive Functioning Strategies When The World Is Anything But Simple

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Moira Creedon, Ph.D. 
Pediatric Neuropsychologist, NESCA

Whether your children have returned to school full-time, on a hybrid model or fully virtual learning, we are all juggling. Juggling work demands, family demands, household demands and educational demands in a time of remarkable uncertainty. The start of the school year typically brings the smell of fresh school supplies and our best organizational efforts, but many of us may feel hesitant to use organizing strategies to manage our lives. Why? Because our lives are unpredictable and anything but typical these days. If you’re hesitating to use pen on a calendar, I hear you!

The ability to plan and employ organizational strategies is a key task of our executive functioning system. It’s what allows us to coordinate multiple schedules, dance and sports practices, projects at work, PTO bake sale reminders, and get out the door each day on time. I have been hesitant to adopt routines because I recall vividly how all those plans imploded in March when the world stood still. I hear the buzz about how school will end up fully remote so “put it all down in pencil before it all changes.”  Maybe that will prove true, but in the meantime, let’s consider the ways that we can rally our executive systems to do what they do best: plan, organize and regulate. Some suggestions for how to do this now while the world is unpredictable:

  1. Adopt the Sunday Game Plan. Put information in a family or personal calendar once a week. Spend a few moments on Sunday night catching up on plans for the coming week. Even if we end up transitioning from “hybrid” to “remote” (or all remote), this planning routine can still be adopted. Conclude your Sunday Game Plan by previewing what may be coming the week after in the event of long-term projects. While the content of your game plan may change, the structure can remain consistent.
  2. Keep a consistent schedule for sleep for the family. When we were all in school and work, we had set times to wake up in the morning. We should adopt more consistent bed times at least from Sunday through Thursday nights. Engage kids and teens in a conversation about the plan for sleep. If there are days when children are not waking up to physically attend school, try to keep wake up times no more than an hour off to allow for more consistency in our overall sleep regulation.
  3. As part of your weekly plan, set aside time for exercise. This is particularly important for children who will have reduced physical education activities. Research about the positive impact of exercise on mood, anxiety and attention underscores how important movement is in the day.
  4. Work together with your child to identify a consistent work space. Needing a work space at home is not suddenly and dramatically forced on all of us like it was in the spring. Take the time to arrange a space that is as distraction-free as you can make it. It’s not necessary to run out and buy things as minimal distractions can allow your child to focus on their school work. Keep the supplies nearby in their own bin, basket or box top.
  5. Help your child to create visual schedules or checklists for the day. Include times for virtual school, times for completing assignments and steps to submit the work either electronically or packed for the next day in school. Keep checklists consistent throughout the week when possible.
  6. Plan and schedule breaks. For young kids, try to plan breaks from tasks for every 15-20 minutes. Incorporate movement or stretching when possible to improve focus. For older students, try to plan breaks every 30 minutes of sustained effort. Try to take a full break from screens rather than replacing a tablet/computer screen with a phone or video game.

Children and teens develop their executive functioning skills over time. Keep this in mind as you set up routines and expectations for your whole family as what is expected for a second grader should and will differ from a seventh grader. Again, the content can differ but the structure of using a checklist, planning a break, or working at a desk or table is the same.

Please remember: the pandemic has depleted our executive functioning systems, so it’s important that we are gentle and kind to ourselves. Think about simple and reasonable systems to organize yourself and your family.  And be flexible when we have to go back to the drawing board.



Positive impact of exercise:


Executive Functioning tips and sample schedules:



About the Author: 

Dr. Creedon has expertise in evaluating children and teens with a variety of presenting issues. She is interested in uncovering an individual’s unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses to best formulate a plan for intervention and success. With experiences providing therapy and assessments, Dr. Creedon bridges the gap between testing data and therapeutic services to develop a clear roadmap for change and deeper of understanding of individual needs.


If you are interested in booking an evaluation with Dr. Creedon or another NESCA neuropsychologist, please fill out and submit our 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, 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.