By: Laura Van Zandt, OTR/L
Executive functioning skills seems like the new ‘buzz’ word for therapists and parents working with children of all ages. Executive functioning skills include the ability to pay attention, recall a series of information, manage your time, be flexible, self-monitor for your emotions and impulses, initiate tasks, problem solve, persist as well as plan, organize, and sequence. One of our former speech therapists, Jennifer Tripoli, wrote a nice blog in August 2014 which you can refer to for more information regarding the definition of executive function skills.
One strategy that I like to teach children is a concept from the Cognitive Orientation to Occupational Performance or CO-OP model by Helene Polatajko and Angela Mandich called GOAL–PLAN–DO–CHECK.
The CO-OP model is a “client-centered, performance based, problem solving approach that enables skill acquisition through a process of strategy use and guided discovery.” Occupational performance is what we do and how we do things throughout our day. Cognitive orientation implies that what we do and how we do things involve a cognitive process. The approach is designed to guide individuals to independently discover and develop cognitive strategies to meet their goals. That sounds like a lot of executive functioning skill development to me!
The use of self-talk is key with GOAL–PLAN–DO–CHECK. When we require children to walk us through their plan and teach us their steps by talking aloud, they engage in more effective approaches to learning.
When teaching children, we start with the GOAL. We teach the child to understand the word GOAL as being something we are working towards completing. One strategy that has been helpful for visualizing the end GOAL is the concept of “future glasses.” Have the child wear funny glasses or simply make your hands in the shape of glasses. Then close your eyes and visualize the completed GOAL and what it might look like when completed.
The word PLAN implies there are a series of steps we need to do in order to meet our GOAL. To me the PLAN is critical for developing our problem solving skills.
Next we DO our goal.
Finally, we CHECK. The CHECK is really important for developing and strengthening our meta-cognitive skills. It is very important to understand how we can do better next time based on what we did today. CHECK gives the opportunity for feedback control by finding and correcting a mistake before the plan is final. It allows for incorporating flexibility and the ability to shift strategies when the current plan is not working.
This process helps children strengthen their executive function skills in the areas of working memory to pull from previous experiences, planning and prioritizing steps involved, persisting to achieve goals, and reflecting back by checking in with the plan to see if it was successful. If not, make alterations in order to be successful, eliminate time robbers to help with impulse control, and manage their time. Remember, initially it is about the practice and not the end result. It is okay to make mistakes. We all learn from mistakes.
Parents and family are an important part of the CO-OP approach. The effectiveness of the intervention is greatly increased when everyone is involved. Parents and family help the
individual child to acquire and practice these skills. It also helps them to transfer and generalize the learned strategies into everyday life. By providing explanations as well as guidance and asking questions at an appropriate developmental level, we provide just enough support necessary for the child to be successful. The more you can help children think about what they do and why, the more they will be able to use that thinking in any problem solving situation. The overall goal is to teach a child how to work through a problem using a planned approach instead of acting impulsively.
To learn more about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley’s occupational therapy services visit: http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/occupational-therapy.html.