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Reflections on 5 years of working with EF’s

Reflections on 5 years of working with EF’s

By Victoria Bagnall, Co Founder, Connections in Mind

I have recently been chatting to lots of people about executive functions, and one question that always comes up is how I first learnt about executive functions.  

Well, I have Dr Claire Casey to thank for that. In late 2014 Claire and I were working on a particularly concerning adolescent case, I was supporting the young lady in question with her school work as a tutor and Clare was supporting her from a psychiatric perspective. I was flummoxed by our ward’s seemingly endless intellectual capacity but her inability to complete some of the simplest tasks, also her crippling perfectionism and performance anxiety and how it inhibited her ability to crack on with her school work. 

Claire recommended I read ‘Smart but Scattered Teens’ by Dr Peg Dawson and Dr Richard Guare, a pioneering parent handbook about executive function development in teenagers. I was hooked from the first chapter. Everything in the book all made absolute sense to me and what’s more I could identify with these struggles myself as dyslexic who has unknowingly struggled to cope with executive function challenges all my life. 

How did reading a book lead to setting up Connections in Mind

After reading the book I signed up for Peg Dawson’s next available one day training in Boston USA and jumped on a plane to go meet her and learn from the master herself. We met over lunch and discussed ideas about bringing executive function coaching to the UK. I began piloting executive function coaching with a number of clients online and found the results to be phenomenal. 

Convinced by the approach, I wrote to Peg to ask her to come to the UK to train the first round of executive function coaches in the UK. She didn’t need much persuasion and we set a date for December 2015. Peg did the first two days and I concluded with a 3rd day about EF coaching in the UK environment. During the course I met Imogen Moore Shelley and later Dr Bettina Hohnen where we discovered we had a shared passion for executive function development and later agreed to form a company to start offering coaching through Connections in Mind at the beginning of the next school year, September 2016. 

Before we began we enlisted the help of eminent Professor of Child Psychiatry Peter Hill to record an informative video about our services and how executive function coaching can help develop strong executive functions and put together a website. In September 2016, as planned, we began offering Peg Dawson’s model of coaching in the UK with a team of just 4 coaches including ourselves. Things have gone from strength to strength: we now have a team of over 40 coaches delivering a range of services to 6 – 90 year olds based on our learnings, research and development. 

What 10 things have you learned about executive function development in the last 5 years? 

  1. Everyone has a unique executive function profile. No one is perfect and everyone can improve their executive functions, from childhood, through to adolescence and right into adulthood. It might surprise readers to know that not one of the 500 teachers we trained last year through the Connections in Mind Foundation had a perfect profile. 
  2. Executive function terminology is easy to learn and natural for people to adopt. We have seen time and time again, in a variety of different contexts, that children as young as 6 can adopt and skilfully deploy the executive function terminology we use in our work. Indeed it helps them immensely to have a term to use to name their challenge so that they can recognise it and seek help to work on it. 
  3. Executive function challenges are not character flaws. Those with weak executive functions carry around a lot of shame about their character which is totally scientifically unfounded. When we hold public talks about executive functions we often have people close to tears as they realise they are not a bad person but their brain works slightly differently to others. 
  4. Executive functions wax and wain. Executive functions change depending on sleep, nutrition, exercise, stress and other environmental factors. In order to start working on executive functions we must first get the ground work done in terms of the environment before real and lasting progress can be made. 
  5. Coaching only works if you are committed to change. When we started Connections in Mind we took on any client whose parents wanted their child to try coaching. Sounds great, right? But we soon realised that just because the parents were keen on coaching it didn’t mean their children were. Progress with these clients was slow, if any progress at all, as the students self awareness or need to change was holding them back. As a result of this we developed our metacognition building programme, a six week introduction to coaching. This programme paves the way for coaching, teaching adolescents about their executive functions, brain plasticity and growth mindset to help them to investigate if working on their executive functions is something they are willing to invest time and effort in.
  6. Coaching is more tricky with younger children. Young children simply don’t have the metacognition to understand why they should work on their executive functions nor the motivation to change, so any work on development of executive functions needs to be fun and engaging. Off the back of this we developed Executive Function Adventures – our 10 session play based intervention which helps develop executive function literacy and works on every day strategies which form the basis of subsequent parent lead development. 
  7. Coaching is most effective when the parents are on board with our approach. We find that parents find it very difficult to stop being their child’s prefrontal cortex and step back and let them develop their executive functions at their own pace. We have developed our Connected Minds Parent course to help parents learn the tools to support strong executive function development at home. Enticing all parents to attend the course is a challenge and we are looking into flexible ways to deliver this course to fit in with busy lives. 
  8. The skill of the coach and the strength of their connection with the client is key to success. Without doubt the key to any professional relationship is trust and connection as the client has to trust they are completely understood and in a non judgemental space. We urge all our clients to look for a spark of connection with their coach, if it isn’t there with one coach it doesn’t mean it won’t be with another.  
  9. Executive function coaching is an expert skill. When we first started coaching we tried to keep costs down for clients by recruiting younger, relatable coaches such as psychology graduates and tutors. However, we quickly learnt that people with executive function challenges have often developed quite sophisticated coping mechanisms to protect themselves against the shame of having weak executive functions. They are often completely charming and adept at telling white lies and diverting you from the real issue in hand. Thus coaches need to be experienced in working with people and know how to hold them to account in firm but empathetic ways. 
  10. You need a strong support system. The best way to develop strong executive functions is through a collaborative home and school support system which actively works on developing strong executive functions. We have written a whole chapter in an upcoming book on neuroscience to be published later this year. Watch this space for more information. 

I am hugely passionate about sharing all there is to know about executive functions and how, by learning and understanding them we can support clients to change their lives in order to flourish.

If you would like to find out more about Connections in Mind and the services we provide then please visit our website. Or, if you feel you or your child, could benefit from executive function coaching then please book a free, 30 minute, discovery call with our executive function coaching expert to better understand the process and tailored programmes.  

Also, we are currently hosting a series of free webinars about executive functions please find more information online here.

About Victoria

Victoria, is a pioneer in the field of executive function skills development and passionately believes that applying the latest developments in neuroscience is the key to unlocking the potential of the human brain. She regards poor executive functions as the bottleneck to productivity and is committed to working with people of all ages to help them overcome their executive function challenges in order to flourish.

Guest Blog: Welcome to Mock Exam Season

Guest Blog: Welcome to Mock Exam Season

December 2nd is the start of two weeks of mock exams for year 11. Although these are practice exams, we encourage students to take them seriously so that they develop good habits for the real thing. As parents, you have the tricky job of finding the balance between supporting and challenging your child. What does this mean? It means being supportive without being overly helpful, and being challenging without being overly critical.

Helpful comments encourage independence and make a student feel good; unhelpful comments discourage students and make them feel bad. When you are tempted to say something critical to your child, ask yourself if it is really about them, or is it about you? Are you projecting your own expectations onto your child in an unrealistic way? As humans we often learn the most from the things we get wrong, so have some patience and allow room for your child to experiment and find out what work for them. Here are some examples:

Helpful

“You’ve been very focused for the last hour – well done.”

“I see that you’re having trouble getting started Would you like me to quiz you with your flashcards?”

“No matter how you do on your exams, I’m proud of you for trying your hardest.”

Unhelpful

“You’ve only revised for one hour – that’s not good enough!”

“You’re just messing around and not getting anything done. Don’t be so lazy!”

“If you fail your exams I’ll be so embarrassed and your life will be a disaster!”

Similarly, the right questions can empower students, while the wrong ones put students on the defensive. Generally speaking, questions that require more than a ‘yes or no’ answer are best as they require some thought to answer and encourage students to take responsibility for themselves:

Helpful

“What’s your plan for revision this weekend?”

“How will you prepare for your maths exam today”

“What’s getting in the way of your revision plans?”

Unhelpful

“Don’t you have anything you should be doing?”

“Aren’t you going to revise for maths today?”

“Are you going to just sit there on your phone all day?”

Finally, resist the urge to be overly helpful – it robs your child of the chance to learn or practice a skill and encourages dependence. Notice the difference between “Would you like some help creating a revision timetable?” and “Here, let me make a timetable for you!” Being too helpful is unhelpful!

Tricia Nearn is one of our specialist parenting coach with Connections in Mind. Tricia’s coaching combines a knowledge of adolescent brain development with coaching strategies to help children develop resilience, tenacity, creativity and the ability to self-reflect. Tricia and Connections in Mind believe that academic success is not always the end-game, but it is often the side-effect of building a strong coaching relationship.

More Haste less Speed

More Haste less Speed

Ever wondered why when you are against the clock everything seems to be against you?  If you are superstitious perhaps you believe that fate is actually against you and it is punishing you for not leaving enough time. Perhaps you have negative self talk telling you if you had only left more time you wouldn’t be in such a pickle? Well believe it or not the answer lies not in the universe being against you, but instead in the unique way our brains are wired.

Picture the scene: you overslept your alarm and wake up 10 minutes before you should be leaving the house. You know that each element of your routine should only take a few minutes so in theory it shouldn’t take you more than 20 minute to leave the house but everything seems to be against you. You put your phone down somewhere and spend 5 minutes turning the sitting room upside down looking for it before you find it in the bathroom. You pour orange juice in your tea instead of milk and you have to boil the kettle all over again. And the icing on the cake – you pat your pocket as you walk down the street and realise that you have locked your house keys in the house and have to go to your partner’s office on the way in to work to make sure you can get in after work as they have plans that night.  Is it fate – completely out of our control – or is something going on in your brain to prevent you for executing your tasks as you would like to? You guessed it, executive functions are the answer.

Yes I know, it is amazing how I manage to see EFs everywhere, but it is such an interesting lens to consider the challenges we face through, and in my view so helpful. 

So what do EFs and neuroscience have to do this having a bad day?  Well everything!

Let’s think about the example above. You wake up you realise you are late and you panic.  What happens to our brain when we panic? We revert to our instinctual brain and bypass our prefrontal cortex where the executive functions are found.

Panic literally disconnects our EFs from our brain and makes it much more difficult for us to execute normal tasks.  This is because the brain is hardwired to keep us safe in traditionally threatening environments – like an animal attack or an ambush. However, ironically it also kicks in when we panic about 21st century parts of our lives – like timekeeping.  So exactly when we need our EFs to execute all the tasks we need to do to make up time quickly our emotional state renders our brains pretty useless for these tasks.  Isn’t that ironic? 

In practice this means that the working memory we need to remember that we left our phone on the shelf while we brushed our teeth is disabled, we are so preoccupied by running for the bus that we forget to even think about our keys and perhaps our emotional control is compromised so we have a little cry on the way to our partners office and probably an unhelpful cross word or two with ourselves about being “hopeless” .

The great news is that because our brains are malleable we can change these patterns and step out of the downward spiral of disaster when we are in panic mode.  Techniques such as mindfulness, breathing exercises and in some cases simply understanding and visualising what is going on in our brains can help. Some people are happy to put these practices into place on their own whilst others have great intentions and never actually get around to it. Our executive function coaches have a plethora of helpful techniques to help us overcome our EF challenges, they are ready and waiting to help you find practical solutions to your challenges and set up bespoke strategies which really work for you.

Click Here to book in to speak to one of the team about our Coaching Services

Click Here for more information about our Parenting Courses.

Click Here for more information about our revision skills courses run through The Code.

Click Here to find out more about our Training and Schools offering.

December Blues

December Blues

Why is December so hard for students with executive function challenges?

This time of year can be particularly challenging for young people with executive function challenges and their parents/carers.

Low mood, coupled with academic pressure from school and general exhaustion can lead to heightened tensions at home and an emotional downward spiral. Hear from Connections in Mind Coaching’s Managing Director Victoria Bagnall about the science behind the December Blues, why they affect students with Executive Function (EF) challenges more than most and what we can do to help.
What are the December blues?

If you talk to any mental health professional in the Northern Hemisphere, they will tell you that the run up to Christmas is their busiest time of year. Many people experience low mood during this time of year. This low mood is thought to be linked to the impaired functioning of the hypothalamus – which can:
* Increase the production of melatonin – this is the hormone that makes you feel sleepy.
* Lower the production of serotonin – this is the hormone that promotes mood, appetite and sleep.
* Affect the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) – the body uses sunlight to time various functions (e.g. when to wake up) .

Why do the December blues affect students with executive function challenges more than others?

We have to remember that school life is particularly demanding for students with executive function challenges. They have been working hard all term to keep up with their peers and by the end of a long term they can be physically and mentally exhausted. We know that executive functions are impaired when we are tired and there the vicious cycle continues.

What is more, due to issues with emotional control and response inhibition, they might find it more difficult than others to regulate their emotions. Whilst others may find it easier to maintain a strong exterior despite feelings of low mood, often students with executive function challenges wear their heart on their sleeve so to speak and struggle to mask how they are feeling.

Indeed, this will be compounded by the fact that their challenges with metacognition (self awareness) result in them feeling more emotional, but not actually be aware of why, or even the impact this is having on their lives and those around them. They can seem like they are absorbed in themselves and not thinking about anyone else.
What can we do to help?
1. Normalise the December blues and share any feelings of low mood as a family to encourage young people to talk about how they are feeling.
2. Recognise and praise that they have been working hard all term, and empathise with them about how hard it is.
3. Encourage good rest and allow them to drop non-compulsory extra curricular activities if they are showing signs of exhaustion.
4. Encourage them to spend time outside in the fresh air and winter sun.
5. Encourage a healthy lifestyle including regular exercise and healthy eating.
6. Avoid energy drinks – see government/ Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health report on the link between energy drinks and poor executive functions in adolescents.
7. Plan fun activities that the young person will enjoy and look forward to.
8. This video can help summarise what we can do to help with the winter blues.
9. Seek help from trained mental health professionals if you have any concerns about the their emotional state i.e. depression or anxiety.
10. Contact Connections in Mind for more support.

Connections in Mind is a family of organisations that is committed to raising awareness of executive function skills and their impact on children’s development and relationships. We offer coaching, parenting courses, revision skills courses and training and support for schools.

Click Here to book in to speak to one of the team about our Coaching Services

Click Here for more information about our Parenting Courses.

Click Here for more information about our revision skills courses run through The Code.

Click Here to find out more about our Training and Schools offering.

ADHD Lobbying

ADHD Lobbying

Co-founder of Connections in Mind and trustee of The Connections in Mind Foundation Dr Bettina Hohnen was invited to speak at an All Party Parliamentary Group for ADHD organised by ADHD Action.

Here are some of her reflections on the day.

One of the key aims of the Connections in Mind Foundation is to influence policy and to increase awareness of Executive Functions (EFs) at a national level. As part of this strategy we have established a working group of psychologists, teachers and coaches who feel passionate about this mission. One of the goals of the working group is to increase the training teachers receive when they are qualifying with regard to what executive functions are, the relationship between executive function learning and mental health, and related neurodevelopmental conditions, such as ADHD.

As the group work towards this goal, an opportunity arose last week to contribute to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This initiative was the result of many years of work by the devoted and inspirational Michelle Beckett from ADHD Action.

It was a bright autumn day and the queue to enter Westminster was a long one, but I soon began to talk to a mother, coach and young person standing behind me attending the same event. It became clear to me before I even walked into the room that this was going to be a well-attended event full of passionate individuals from all walks of life who had been affected by the condition.

I had been asked to give a five-minute presentation, with the invitation to cite scientific evidence for the causes and incidents of ADHD and its potential impact on mental health and well being. How is it possible, I wondered, to succinctly summarise a vast array of data with a meaningful message in five minutes? I chose to focus on three key myths about ADHD and offer three key solutions.

Misconceptions about ADHD

The first myth that needs busting before all else is that ADHD is a behavioural disorder, as some still believe. It is, in fact, one of a number of neurodevelopmental disorders where a child’s brain is developing differently to the majority of the population. Research has clearly demonstrated that people with ADHD have distinct structural, chemical and functional characteristics of their brains that emerge as they grow up. ADHD is strongly heritable and while no one likes the idea of medicating children and young people, a meta-analysis published in 2013 shows clearly that core symptoms of ADHD are most effectively treated with medical intervention.

The second myth is that we don’t know what to do about the epidemic of mental health problems in young people and how to manage the behavioural crisis in school that results in startlingly high levels of exclusion. On the contrary, we have the answer staring us in the face. A very high proportion of children who present with mental health difficulties or cause disruption at school have a neurodevelopmental condition, such as ADHD (1-3 children in every classroom), which is currently under-recognised and under-diagnosed.

The third myth is that effective assessment and intervention in ADHD is prohibitively expensive and hard to implement. We do know how to assess and intervene in a cost-effective manner. The knowledge, expertise and evidence are there. We just need to know how and where to implement change.

Solutions

There are three key solutions that are effective, easy to implement and would make a real difference to young people with ADHD.

Firstly, we can equip teachers with the knowledge to recognise ADHD in all children. Teachers are dedicated and hard-working individuals who are currently in the dark. They are given the task of teaching large groups of children, all of whom are different, but a proportion of whom stand out and are struggling. Teachers know ‘one size fits all’ does not work in education but they don’t have the skills to identify what is really going on. This is particularly a problem for girls with ADHD who are systematically under-diagnosed and for children with ADHD in the context of high ability who under-achieve but go unnoticed as they perform at an average level, despite their enormous potential. We just need to train teachers on what to look for to identify ADHD. Iif you know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to identify.

Solution number two is to set up affordable but effective screening systems for ADHD for children who are underachieving at school, have mental health problems or have behavioural challenges. We are past the age of believing that children are inherently lazy or naughty. Behaviour is a communication that tells us that a child is struggling. We have a duty to investigate the why and act.

Solution number three is to train all teachers in the small but effective strategies for how to manage all children’s behaviour and to help them engage in learning in the classroom. Some of the most effective interventions in education have come about from relatively small changes in our perceptions and beliefs. Take the work around mindsets, for example. The intervention is small but powerful, as it is meaningful and integrated throughout a child’s life. It’s a change in the way behaviour is perceived by both the adult and child, and a change in how we communicate about success and respond to behaviour.

The current work around Executive Functions (EFs) and metacognition is another example of this kind of approach. Programmes exist that embed an awareness of EF skills in the curriculum, offering both teachers and children an understanding of the processes of learning that are getting in the way of performance. This demystifies children’s performance, reduces teacher and student stress and empowers them both to know how to change. In the UK, the Connections in Mind Foundation has been working with schools to train teachers on how to do this by adopting the Activated Learning approach. Laurie Faith (creator of Activated Learning) reminds us that this kind of intervention is ‘necessary for some and good for all’. With these types of approaches, we are handing children the key to their own success that will serve them now and for many years to come.

The point is that none of these solutions and approaches are expensive, onerous or difficult to implement. This is not about changing the entire education system; it’s about knowing what makes a difference for children.

“None of these solutions and approaches are expensive, onerous or difficult to implement. This is not about changing the entire education system; it’s about knowing what makes a difference for children.”

Passionate contribution for all

After my short presentation, Kit Messenger, former head teacher and head of education at Genius Within, spoke passionately about her experience as a teacher, echoing much of what I had said and reinforcing the negative impact in schools where there are cases of undiagnosed ADHD in children. She was followed by Stephanie Camilleri, lawyer, school governor and legal advocate for cases involving ADHD and schools, who talked about her work as a legal advocate as well as her experience of children with ADHD struggling within the school system. The floor then opened for questions and answers, chaired by Alex Sobel, along with Angela Rayner, shadow education secretary.

Passionate personal stories were recounted from parents, young people, professionals, lawyers, police officers and teachers. The strength of feeling was overwhelming. Of the very many important points and messages, what stands out for me are the following: the importance of remembering gender imbalance in diagnoses (girls are systematically under-diagnosed); the potential racial biases in diagnoses (young black boys are more likely to be seen as badly behaved); emotional regulation as a key symptom of ADHD, including heightened anxiety; that it is a child’s human right to have breaks in their school day (a point made with force by a young man who had consistently been held in at break time at school before getting his diagnosis); and that medication does work for some (as illustrated during a Q & A session with a psychiatrist and her 12-year-old patient).

One mother also pointed out that parents need support at home on being educated on what EFs are and how they impact on home life;there are currently no programmes showing them how. This is something that spoke volumes to us because, over the last few years, we have created a course called Connected Minds Parenting to do just this.

As a person waiting to take office who has the understanding and experience that inspires action, Angela Rayner gave us hope for change. Angela is current and cutting edge as a strong female MP, both as a teenage mother and a person with a self-disclosed diagnosis of ADHD, which she referred to as her ‘super-power’. She confirmed what we all know and fear, which is that there is a mighty discrepancy between the way we treat children with physical disabilities and those with neurodisabilities. Her child with visual impairment is well looked after by the NHS. Her child with ADHD has been sanctioned and labeled as naughty and his needs neglected, both before and since being diagnosed. If there is anyone who can champion the cause of the campaign, it’s Angela.

What the future holds

The Connections in Mind Foundation is devoted to helping all children flourish by increasing awareness of and intervention to develop executive function skills. While the foundation works hard on its mission, the seeds have already been planted that an executive function approach is an inexpensive, effective and accessible way in which we can support children both with and without ADHD, because at times we all struggle with our executive function skills. There is a lot of work to do, but the foundations have been laid, the motivation is there and the future looks bright. There can be no more excuses. This is not about money or a significant overhaul of our education system – it’s about the motivation to equip everyone in society with the knowledge needed to support all children.

Why We Are Setting up Our Foundation

Why We Are Setting up Our Foundation

At Connections in Mind, one of the struggles we have come across is the lack of awareness about executive functions, the science behind them and how they impact on learning and mental health. To recap – executive functions are the group of complex mental processes and cognitive abilities (such as working memory, impulse inhibition, and reasoning) that control the skills (such as organising tasks, remembering details, managing time, and solving problems) required for goal-directed behaviour.

These are skills we need to flourish in life and poor executive functions can negatively impact on academic achievement, emotional functioning, and job outcomes (Alloway & Alloway, 2010 ; Miller, Nevado‐Montenegro, & Hinshaw, 2012; Snyder, 2013.

We want to dedicate time and effort to: raising awareness with parents and schools; evaluating approaches to strengthen children and young people’s executive function skills; and initiating innovative projects with children and young people from all backgrounds. We think that launching a charity is the best vehicle for us to be able to achieve these aims

What We Will Focus On

Children’s relationships and interactions with their parents and caregivers can impact on the development of these skills and the home environment of children can be viewed as a mediator of the relations between the socio-economic conditions of families and children’s executive function development (Finegood & Blair, 2017).

We are acutely aware of the connections between poor executive function development and low socio-economic status (Fernald, Weber, Galasso, & Ratsifandrihamanana, 2011) ; (Hackman, Gallop, Evans, & Farah, 2015); (Haft S. L. & Hoeft F.2017)

When the home environment is negatively impacted by poverty, this can affect the levels of stress in the home and quality of interactions between parents and children. Therefore working with schools, families, children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to improve their executive function skills will be an area of priority for us.

Parenting in the 21st Century

Parenting in the 21st Century

Dr Bettina Hohnen one of the co-founders of Connections in Mind will be giving a workshop next week at our summit about parenting in the 21st century to support children and young people to develop executive functions skills.

Much has been written about how the world is changing and how our education system, which was invented in the 19th Century to meet the needs of industrialisation, is not necessarily equipping children with the skills they need to work in 21st century jobs. There is a growing consensus that new skills are needed to succeed in education and in the workplace as is shown in the figure below. Many of these skills are foundational and higher order executive functions (EF) skills such as persistence/grit, adaptability, initiative, critical thinking. It is said that employers are looking for individuals who can understand and analyse new information, know whether content is valid, collaborate and communicate with others while working towards a goal.

While educational professionals are busy working out how the curriculum in schools should change and adapt to incorporate this kind of learning (see Activated Learning for example, www.activatedlearning.org), there is much that parents can be doing at home to support the development of children’s EF skills. Connected Parenting is a programme that aims to equip parents with the knowledge and skills to do just that.

Students must know about their Executive Functioning skills

Connected parenting shows parents how to increase their child’s awareness of EF skills used in the home. Naming them and pointing them out is a crucial step in training them. Children use their EF skills successfully a lot of the time. For example, a child as young as 3 is able to inhibit a response (stop themselves doing things they have the urge to do), most children are able to sustain attention to a task that is not of inherent interest to them from age 5 and by the time they are 6 or 7 many children are able to plan for a trip and pack their bags ahead of time.
Yet children are not aware of the skills they are using.

By naming the skill and focusing on the process the child is going through when they are being successful, we can increase the child’s awareness or ‘metacognition’ (ability to reflect on ones own behaviour). We do not have the brain evidence (yet!), but we believe that by increasing awareness of when EF skills are being used we are stimulating the brain networks to strengthen pathways which will lead to greater competence in this area of functioning.

Of course a child’s EF skills don’t always ‘switch on’, which is perhaps not surprising given that the frontal lobes of the brain which house the EF skills are not yet developed until into the mid 20s. Inactivation of an EF skill underlies so many of the problematic behaviours that cause stress in a family, but if we can name the EF skill not being drawn on we have a chance of fixing the problem. Parents learn how important communication is and a strategy to tackle the problem in a stress-free manner.

The parent-child relationship must be the priority

Due to the nature of EF difficulties, despite parents’ best efforts, the parent-child relationship can become strained. For this reason, priority is given to helping parents to learn how to prioritise their relationship with their child while also changing their child’s behaviour for the better. Old school parenting is more about hierarchy and power with not a lot of questioning or collaborating. In old school parenting there is more of a focus on the goal and on achievement and not so much on the process, such as how we got there. New ideas in parenting focus more on dialogue and empathy, listening and deep learning. A focus on emotional intelligence and compassionate parenting, while naming the skills the child need to draw on to be more successful in that moment (the EF skill), is what Connected Parenting is all about.

 

Bettina Hohnen, Clinical Psychologist

June 2018

“Uniquely Wired But Still Totally Awesome”

“Uniquely Wired But Still Totally Awesome”

Liv Daly is a student in coaching in Connections in Mind and was invited to present at Thomas’s Clapham as part of their neuro-diversity awareness week. Liv gave an impressive presentation about her experiences of living with diagnosis Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD, mild hemiparesis, her challenges and strengths.

Liv shared that it was really difficult for her to understand her diagnosis of Asperger’s at the age of 11 and she thought it was a disease. This is a really poignant reflection on how challenging it can be for children and families to understand diagnosis. Liv went on to share that she can struggle with social interactions, keeping focus and organising, and this affects her at home and in the classroom. She has done so many wonderful things, such as singing on Autism’s got Talent, a kids fashion show (that Melanie Sykes was involved in) that raised c. £10,0000, she loves to bake healthy foods and she wrote a book “Flours in my Hair” which was sold for charity and raised £20,000 for a paediatric hospital in Jerusalem

Liv has a really supportive family and a good network around her and she has found the support from her teaching assistant invaluable as well as coaching from Connections in Mind. Liv has mastered organisational skills, and is developing her skills in social interactions. She has found reducing her sugar intake and maintaining a balance lifestyle and diet to have been a game changer for her. She is feeling more focus, organised and on top of things. She is planning to study genetics at University- so she is incredibly smart too!

Liv is a passionate, positive and is proud of who she is and her accomplishments. She is an excellent example of living beyond a ‘diagnosis’ and finding coping strategies that work for her. It has been such a pleasure to work with Liv in coaching in Connections in Mind and thank you Liv for doing such a great job of raising awareness to Year 7’s and 8’s at Thomas’s. We think this could be the first of many public appearances to come

What are the key messages that you wanted students to take away from the presentation?

– That a diagnosis is helpful because it puts things in perspective and makes you realise that you are the way you are because of factors beyond your control. It also helps you realise if you try hard enough you can overcome the difficulties you face;

– Coaching has helped appreciate the behaviours that are unacceptable and to learn to manage them

– A key take home message is to accept who you are and the difficulties you face and to be proud of yourself and your achievements and to regard these difficulties as challenges you can overcome and to remain positive.

How has EF coaching helped you?

Coaching with Rose has definitely helped me with my continued organisation of my school work; somehow I managed to stay organised ish for my GCSEs, but after that it just snowballed and went downhill. I have now organised almost an entire years worth of stuff for 3 subjects (6 sub-subjects) in time for my predicted grade exams in two weeks (first week of June), which is extremely impressive, given that before my GCSEs (and after, before Rose came along) looked like a massive brain dump! Also, Rose is trying to get me to become more independent (like being able to go get a blueberry muffin from Starbucks on my own) and to socialise with people outside of school more (although I’m pretty sure that’s mostly procrastination, as well as a teeny bit of a fear of rejection/worries about how they’d ‘deal’ with me if I freaked out and had a bit of a meltdown in public. At least my parents know how to deal with that. My friends, not so much).

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