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Hi Yoga Mother.

We are reading the novel Holes by Louis Sachar in English Language Arts. Joseph had some difficulty remembering some of the details of the novel when we were doing a quiz on some of the chapters. (The former aide) suggested he take the book home and have you re-read, and/or “front load” the book with him… I will send an extra copy home with him if you think reading and discussing the book would be helpful. Thanks.

I get emails like this fairly frequently from Joseph’s school.  To me they scream two words: Executive function. This is the part of the brain that’s front and center: Sitting just behind our foreheads, it’s a really, really, really helpful area.


We spent part of this past weekend going over some chapters from Holes. Sometimes I can step out of being Mom and step into the part of me that wanted to be a psychologist (I started college with that goal, but changed it when I realized how long I’d have to stay in school). When I do this, instead of being frustrated or despairing, I find it soooo fascinating to see  how Joseph’s brain works.

For instance, he read a chapter that was only a few pages long and that described a fun story that had occurred in the life of Stanley’s great-great grandfather. I asked Joseph to tell me, in his own words, what he’d read. The mumble-jumble that came forth was — here’s that psychologist’s word again — fascinating. He started toward the end of the story, jumped into an incident or two toward the beginning, and left out most of the important details.

And he was trying.

What to do? Perhaps some real psychologist could tell me how best to approach this, but since s/he wasn’t there, I took over. Borrowing on RDI’s idea of shared perspective, I lent him my more-organized mind’s perspective. Go to the beginning and then onto the next steps, I coached. End with the end.

Isn’t it funny that this has to be explained? Those of us with strong executive functioning grasp this intuitively from a very young age. But the autistic mind (and many others) has definite executive function challenges. It simply can’t do this.

So we work with executive function. When Joseph tells a story from his own life, we have him describe who, what, where, when, and why. When we talk about decorating for Christmas, or heading out to do errands, or getting ready for school in the morning, we often ask him, “What’s your plan?” We try to keep executive function in mind and to help it develop in many ways.

Slowly, slowly, oh so slowly, we see it helping. Research shows that executive function isn’t fully developed until the late 20’s in males. Time is still on our side.

In the meantime, I expect to see many more notes from school, and mistakes at home, and strange conversations, that scream executive function challenges. Bring ’em. The more we see, the more we can work with.

buddist-statueInterestingly, the meditator is coached to focus on the point between the eyebrows, and studies have shown that this area grows and develops in the brains of regular meditators. This must be part of why a meditator can generally control their emotions, regulate themselves, and concentrate well.

It also makes sense that someone without much executive function would find meditation to be a very difficult and frustrating activity. If you can’t concentrate well, how can you concentrate enough to meditate? Ironic.

Learning about executive function has helped me a lot in working with Joseph. Instead of blaming him, I listen hard to what his brain is missing. Then I work to fill in the gaps.

Maybe I should have stayed in school. Psychology is fascinating.  😉


Our RDI Consultant taught Joseph how to use a bow and arrow today. As Joseph held the bow and pulled back the string, he felt the tension in it and said, “OWWW!”

John asked, “Did it hurt?” and Joseph answered, “No. I was scared.”

This engendered a conversation between them about how you say Ow! when something hurts and how you do something else, like inhale audibly, when you’re scared.

These are the kinds of things you talk about when your kid has some wires crossed in his mind. John calls it disorganization — which, when you think about it, means you’ve got things in the wrong place and it feels chaotic. A pretty good description for what happens inside Joseph’s mind at times.

For years I’ve tried to distinguish for Joseph the difference between hearing something and seeing something. The other day he said he’d heard thunder and seen lightning, and I thought, “Eureka! It’s finally connecting!”

So nice when, after much effort over time trying to flip the switch, the light finally shines.

There’s still much to work on in terms of getting disorganization organized. For instance, Joseph might call from downstairs for Blue Eyes, asking where he is. Blue Eyes will answer and his voice will clearly be coming from up the stairs, but it’s not clear to Joseph. He’ll turn around and start looking in the wrong place.

Or I’ll have Joseph’s clean laundry on his bedroom floor, folded and ready to be put away. When I bug him to put his laundry away, he’ll take it and put it — sigh — in the hamper.

I see disorganization a lot when I watch Joseph in swim class. Take yesterday, for example. Joseph’s swim teacher gave the kids some instruction about how they were forming two teams with three kids on each one. She touched the heads of each kid as she said their names. “Mark, Joseph and Lita, you are team one. You swim to the other side and back, and then tag your team member two to go.”She chanted, “Ready, set, go!”

The other two kids swam off quickly. Joseph just stood there. He looked at the teacher, confused, and asked, “Am I on team one?

Anyone can miss things now and then, but this happens a lot with Joseph.

Disorganization. It must be really hard to have the wires crossed within one’s brain. I would feel like a stranger in a strange land if I couldn’t grasp concepts as quickly as others. Though not a neat freak, I really dislike it when my life is disorganized. I can’t imagine how frustrating it would be if my brain were that way, and there wasn’t a thing I could do to change it.

No wonder Joseph doesn’t hold conversations at length. He does try, and often times we have to unscramble a few things to make sense of what he’s saying. He said something almost backwards the other day, and our respite worker, with infinite kindness, restated it correctly for him. This is the value of having experienced people around him — people who understand the problem and who work with it with patience and care.

What I hope and pray for is that Joseph gets this: A processing disorder is not the same as being slow or stupid. In the future, I want him neither to accept others’ abuse of him for this nor for him to abuse himself.

At least the brain experts have changed their mind about when the brain stops developing. Whereas they used to think that nothing much changed after childhood, they’ve decided that one’s brain can continue improving throughout its existence. Very kind of them to have proven such a thing as Joseph turns 8.

We’ll continue to sort through the disorganization as best we can. Grateful for the respite support we get, because it can be exhausting trying to help a disorganized kid act like the majority of relatively organized humans on this planet.

Autism and Spirituality: the Dance