What Executive Function Issues Look Like In Our Homeschool


D studying statistics on his own.
D studying statistics on his own.

D is a very bright child.   He comprehends most of our science, history, and social studies very quickly and is ready to move on before I am.  But, due to executive function issues related to his Autism, he has some trouble in a few surprising areas. In fact, the reason we homeschool him is due to his sensory and executive function issues.

Executive Function is like the conductor if your brain is a train.  Executive Function controls where you go, how you get there and what time.  Executive Function controls working memory, multitasking and organizing.  When he is having trouble in these areas, he can get frustrated and angry.  We have to work through these emotions and keep trying.  These are the areas he struggles in the most.


D does not have any trouble at all with mathematical concepts.  He learns those rather quickly.  The problem comes when he is asked to memorize addition and subtraction facts.  Memorization is a problem for him.  That’s because the executive function area of the brain controls working memory.  In order to memorize something, you have to hold on to it in working memory long enough to send it to permanent storage memory.  D cannot do that.  It slips away too quickly.  So, when doing a page of addition and subtraction, each problem is new to him.  Since he cannot hold on to the addition facts long enough, he must start over with each consecutive problem, and if he has a lot of them he gets frustrated.  Unfortunately, math curriculums do not take executive function issues into account.  Most of them expect him to memorize math facts in a short amount of time.  D can memorize, but it takes him much, much longer.  At the end of 2nd grade, we still use an abacus much of the time in math.


D is an advanced reader.  He is a voracious reader.  He reads all the time.  Still, this is an area also where executive function affects us.  D taught himself to read at the age of 5.  But now, in 2nd grade, when a lot of children are moving on to advanced chapter books, D still struggles with books that have no pictures.  That’s again because of the working memory and multitasking issues of executive function.  Without pictures to remind him of where he is in the story, he must fully rely on his working memory, which is faulty, at best.  He must multitask by reading each word and still holding on to the memory of what is currently happening in the story, plus what has already happened.  I am also convinced he thinks in pictures, so he has to translate the words into pictures in order to understand it.  Since I am beginning to get a handle of his struggles, I have started to act out the books we are reading.  If the book has an associated movie, we watch it.  If not, after each chapter we perform a short,  dramatic skit.  The jury is still out, but I am hopeful that this will help cement the events of the story in his mind.



In our homeschool, we do a weekly STEM project.  STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  It looks like building, creating and putting things together.  We have built robots, put LEGOs together and solved brain teasers.  Once again, executive function issues can interfere with his learning.  Solving problems is a job done by the executive function area of the brain.  Solving problems also requires multitasking.  If the STEM challenge is too difficult, it can cause frustration and anger, but STEM is very helpful to help him learn how to problem solve.  As both his mom and his teacher, I have to stretch him a little most days.  Not to the point of frustration and anger, but enough so that he can learn some coping skills for the weaker areas that he struggles with.


Some of the ways I’ve been trying to increase his working memory is going to the grocery store, where I challenge him to remember 2 items from our list.  Narration during reading, where we go back over the chapter and highlight the big events of the book.  We use a schedule, both to help him remember what we need to do that day and as a strategy against time wasters.  I’ve implemented a Morning Meeting, where we can discuss our day and go over the schedule.  That way he knows what we need to accomplish and whether there are any ‘away from home’ type tasks, like appointments or errands.

What about you?  Do you have a child with executive function problems?  Do you have any strategies that have worked for you?  I’d love to hear them!


5 Tips for a Successful Haircut with a child with Autism or SPD


As anyone who is familiar with Autism or SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder), getting haircuts is TORTURE, both for the kids and for the parents.   It’s a chore that has to be done, but it’s really hard for all involved.  I’ve seen stylists chase kids all over the salon, cut hair while the child is laying on the floor and drive for hours for desperate parents whose sole desire is for a drama free haircut.  But for these kids, the entire experience is a nerve wrenching experience that is, at best, tolerated and, at worst, full-on battle mode.

For some reason, my husband and I lucked into just the right situation, in just the right place, with just the right barber.  After a few years to think about it, I think I understand why.  So, I’m blogging about what I learned.  If these tips help you in any way, I’d love for you to comment and tell me.   So, here’s my suggestions to help with easier haircuts for these kids.


  1.  Pick the right place.

All salons and barbershops are the same, right?  Nope!  In the early days I had varying degrees of success with salons and the stylists there.  They range from bad to terrible, mostly.  One stylist wanted me to instruct my 2 year old to “stay perfectly still” or she could not cut his hair.  Needless to say, we didn’t get his haircut that day.  The most successful haircuts we’ve had have been at a barbershop, not a salon.  The old-fashioned barbershop.  One guy with a pair of scissors and one barber chair.   From a child’s point of view, it makes perfect sense.  No murmur of voices from other customers.  No blowdryers or electric razors.  This is the ideal place.  Most large cities and small towns have a barbershop somewhere.

2.  Pick the right person.

We’ve had the most success with barbers and stylists who have been perfecting their craft for years and have extensive experience dealing with children.  The stylist I mentioned earlier was a very young lady who probably didn’t have a lot of experience dealing with children.  The barber we use regularly has owned his shop for years.   His name is Jose.  Jose knows D is unable to keep himself from wiggling.  In fact, D wiggles with every snip of the scissors.  Once, when Jose wasn’t there and we had another barber, it didn’t go as well.  The right barber is critical.

3.  Pick the right haircut.

We don’t have to cut our kids hair as often.  Perhaps once every 4 months or so.  D’s hair doesn’t grow as much.  A’s hair is very curly.  So, with both kids we get it cut very, very short for several reasons.  First, and most importantly, neither boy cares much for haircuts, but for D they are especially hard.  Getting it very short cuts down on the number of times they have to tolerate this experience.  Still, D will ask “Are you done yet” half a dozen times before he’s finished.  We can grow it out quite a bit before we have to cut it again.  Another reason is that my husband usually takes off work to get their hair cut.  He doesn’t want to have to do that very often.  The reason why he takes off leads me right to the next tip.

4. Pick the right time and day.

It is incredibly inconvenient to have to take a day off work to get your kids’ haircut, but it may be absolutely necessary for these kids with sensory issues.  What my husband and I discovered was that the less time D had to wait for a haircut, the more successful that haircut was.  Long wait times contributed to rising anxiety about the entire experience and set us up for meltdowns and failure.  Once we realized that, we began to plan to take him in the early afternoon, before the shop got busy with other customers.  More customers also increases the amount of ambient noise, which contributes to sensory defensiveness.  So, we go during the week and in the early afternoon, before most folks are getting off of work.


5.  Pick the right parent.

For some of you single parents, this may not be an option, but choosing which parent to take the child is a definite consideration.  In the early days, my husband took my son because at times he had to hold him still.  He would hold our son on his lap and hold his head still.  I haven’t been strong enough to do that for a long, long time.  Also, some children prefer the clippers and some prefer scissors.  You will have to try each to see what they tolerate better.  One of my boys prefers scissors and one prefers the clippers.  All of them, including my husband, need to come home and change their shirt.  My husband sometimes even showers.


No matter what you try, it will be difficult in the beginning.  All new things are difficult for kids with Autism.  I believe it is important for us to try to understand and work within their sensory issues.  I’d love for you to let me know if these tips helped you at all.  Leave me a comment and share your favorite stories!



photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/43424851@N08/8718509441″>Vintage barbershop pole sign</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>

The Practice of Grace

Building a home isn't easy.
Building a home isn’t easy.


    The reality of homeschooling can be overwhelming at times.  I won’t lie about that.  I think that’s true for all of us who homeschool.  Simply put, it’s enormous responsibility.  Add in the ‘extras’ of being a mom, wife, cleaning and cooking and you wind up with quite a big load for one person.  Now, imagine doing ALL of that with a chronic illness.  

Daily pain and discomfort is a reality for some of us.

I consider myself one of the fortunate ones.   My asthma is well controlled for the most part.  My fibromyalgia and IBS is managed by diet and vitamins.  Most days my goals are met.  My housekeeping goals are broken down to 1 to 2 loads of laundry per day and one housekeeping chore.  Needless to say, it has become important to conserve my energy.  Most days I keep up with it all:  Housekeeping, cooking, homeschooling, being a mom and being a wife.  It all goes fine until there’s a cold or virus.

A virus brings the normal misery and then some.  First, there’s the usual symptoms, then there’s the fibro flare.  Pain, radiating from the small of my back, then throughout my body bringing with it fatigue and sensitivity to cold and heat.  I won’t lie.  It’s absolute misery.  It brings a halt to all but the basics.  The basics in this house?  Homeschooling:  the 3 Rs, Home:  basic maintenance (picking up, laundry and floors), Cooking:  Anything that is quick and easy.

Unfortunately, the fibromyalgia doesn’t affect my vision.  So, I see all the dirt piling up.  The floor in desperate need of cleaning.  The bathroom.  Oh, my.  The bathroom.  It would be so easy in this moment to believe that I am just terrible at this whole mom thing.  It is so easy to give in to the despair and the depression.

But this is where the PRACTICE of Grace comes in.

Because, you know, you won’t be any good at something you don’t practice, right?  So you tell yourself the things you would tell your BFF if she was in this SAME POSITION.

It’s okay.  It’s not like this is an everyday event.  This is temporary.  You will fix it when you feel better.  You’re allowed to be sick sometimes.  You’re not Super Mom.  You can do it, but just not all at once.  You’re not a bad person or a bad mom just because the floor is a little dirty.  The kids are happy, isn’t that what really matters?

My house at better times.
My house at better times.

I continue in this same uplifting self talk, until I feel better about my situation.  As a mom, it is so very important not to let myself slip into despair.  The cost to my house is huge.  Despair will tear down what I have built up.  It is the thief who is here to destroy.  Despair has a cost that a dirty floor doesn’t have.  The two just can’t compare.

Grace is a practice.  Just like we have to practice drawing or piano, you must practice Grace for yourself and others.  The dictionary defines Grace as being goodwill and mercy.  It is important to be merciful on ourselves, as well as our kids.  Practice Grace today for yourself.  Be merciful to you.  Be kind to you.





photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/126581270@N08/15076010253″>Ephesians 2:8-9</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>