Executive Function

I rarely if ever cry, but a while ago, I read a blog post by Alyssa at Yes, That Too, that made me cry, partially because it brought back painful memories, partly because for the first time, I’d found someone who understood, who was able to articulate my experiences.  You can find it here.

The blog post dealt with something to do with getting stuff done.

It’s a skill called executive function.

I don’t have it.  Or at least I don’t have enough of it.

That’s one of the several reasons why I have a provisional diagnosis of ADHD.

“My record for most homework assignments completed between getting on the bus to school and the end of the day? Seven.”

I used to do almost all of my homework on the bus going to school, or during the 10 minutes or so before class started.  Now that the number and length of homework assignments has increased, that doesn’t really work for me, and I’ve found that if I do the homework between midnight and 4am the morning it’s due, I can generally get enough of it done to pass most of my classes.  Even so, though, with larger assignments, or on days when there’s homework that really isn’t made for doing at odd hours in the morning, I can’t get them done.  Not because I don’t want to do them, and not because they’re difficult.  Because planning to get an assignment done at least a day before it’s due takes more effort than doing the assignment itself.  It’s fine for daily assignments, to do it like that, but with projects that are meant to take weeks or months of work, that’s when my inability to plan and organise my time becomes a grade-threatening problem.  Sometimes I have someone help me create an hour-by-hour calendar with reminders, but even with that, it’s sometimes difficult.  And incredibly frustrating especially when the project in question is something I find really, really exciting, and it’s something I actually want to do but somehow can’t.

“[Including] an after school extra math class I was in because my school wouldn’t put me in my level of math class until I got organized and that’s a thing I’m not capable of doing myself. (No, they did not offer any help with doing so or methods I could use. Because if I’m so smart, I should be able to figure it out. Or something.)”

When I was in the fourth grade, one of my teachers (who was very, very awesome on the whole and just didn’t really understand my difficulties and because I was eight, didn’t think to ask me, not that I could have articulated it at that point) decided that since I wasn’t doing the work because I was bored in class, what I really needed was a little incentive.  So she talked to some other teachers and I don’t know who else, and they decided that I could have a pull-out class and spend some of my lessons working on something interesting my classmates didn’t get to do with another teacher in another classroom.  Which was absolutely great.  I was really excited.  And then they said that the condition for this was that I had to hand in all my homework.  On time.  I tried.  I really did.  And I still couldn’t manage to get every piece of work done on time.  So I didn’t get to join the pull-out class.  Because special ability-appropriate education is only for students who have age-appropriate organisational abilities which I didn’t have then and still don’t have now.  The school had a couple of study skills classes where they taught methods that students could use to get and stay organised, but they all assumed a certain basic level of organisational ability that I didn’t really have, so yeah.  That didn’t work either.

“I had no trouble whatsoever grasping the academic content. It was not a challenge. Getting the work done was because the attitude was still “if you’re so d*mn smart just do it, god, what are you stupid or something?” I’ve been there. I’ve been there so much it’s not even funny. No one said it in exactly those words, but I’ve been there. Usually I was lazy, which isn’t true, bad at time management, which is kind of true but doesn’t get at the root of the problem, or doing too much, which has sometimes been true but also wasn’t the problem.”

This is the paragraph that made me cry.  Because after years of being called lazy, stupid, stubborn, uncooperative and all kinds of other stuff, it’s nice to know that I’m not alone, and that this isn’t entirely my fault.  I’m not stupid, even now, with the IB programme, which is supposed to be hard and whatever, the material itself isn’t challenging.  I learned most of it myself from the textbook the summer before school started.  What’s hard is getting the work done.  All of it and on time.   It happens sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it happens but because I’m willing to make sacrifices and I feel drained for days afterwards.  And what’s the hardest?  That nobody, not one, thought to ask me why I was struggling before they assumed I just didn’t want to do the work.

I read blogs primarily to find some reflection of myself in them. And normally I see bits and pieces of me. This blog post, though, for the first time I felt like someone understood something that has been destroying my confidence in my ability long before my anxiety came along.

Executive function. There’s a word for it, there’s a word for what I’m going through.

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Disclosure: The quotes were taken from the post I mentioned and linked to and are not my work.  They collectively make up 14.8% of the original post (by number of words).

Handwriting

This is in response to this post written by Alyssa of Yes, That Too.  Or rather, these are just my rambling thoughts that were inspired by her awesome post.

When I was in fifth grade, students with nice handwriting were allowed to use pen on homework assignments.  Almost everyone in my class, by the end of the year, had managed to get a ‘pen license’.  Except me.  Beyond the embarrassment of being the only girl in the class not to have one, I got increasingly frustrated with myself for not being able to write neatly.

At the end of the sixth grade, my parents took me to see an educational psychologist who said that since my fine motor skills were/are less than stellar, it might be a good idea to let me complete assignments and stuff on the computer.  Because my handwriting at that point was so bad that in order for anyone (including me) to read my writing, I had to write so slowly that I’d forget what I was trying to say before I reached the end of a sentence.

Since I don’t have a disability, just rubbish fine motor skills, nothing happened.  Except that in seventh grade, I finally did get around to learning to write neatly (peer pressure etc. etc. etc.).  And I can actually write very, very neatly.  It took me pretty much the whole year.  I found a girl whose handwriting was nice and copied and copied and copied until I could write the way she did.  It took a long time, but I made it.

One of my teachers has spent pretty much the entire year telling us about how important it is that we have neat handwriting in exams and such.  In my last test, I wrote with the neatest handwriting I could manage.  It was legible and clear.  I was actually quite proud of myself.  And my teacher’s comment on my test was “You need to improve your handwriting!”.  I was really quite disappointed.  I thought my handwriting was very neat, and was proud of how neat I’d managed to make my writing in the past 5 years.  And then this.  Which was not nice, but fine.  I can deal with not nice.

Another thing we have to do in my school is take notes in class.  Handwritten notes, not computer ones.  Last year in my end-of-term report, one of my teachers said something about how I needed to take more notes in class.  Which is great.  Because taking notes in class doesn’t do me a lot of good.  I can’t write and listen at the same time, because the mechanics of handwriting take up too much of my concentration, and trying to filter out background noise in a classroom takes too much concentration, and I’m only one person.  So I can either listen and process everything the teacher says in real-time, or I can write down everything she says and read it later.  If I choose to listen, she gets upset because I’m not taking notes, but if I take notes, I have to write very quickly because if I’m not listening, I can’t filter out things I don’t need to copy down which means I have to write down every word.  My handwriting when I’m writing at a normal speed is barely legible to me and illegible to some people.  When I’m writing down every word?  Even I can’t read over half of it.  Which means over half of the things she said, I am missing.  Not good.  I can manage, because she happens to teach my best subject and I can read the textbook, but it just seems really counterintuitive to copy down notes I can’t use, when just listening in class would be more helpful for me (despite the fact that I’m very un-auditory as a learner… at least I can process nearly everything she says).

In Alyssa’s blog post, she talked about accessibility for kids who can’t do the handwriting-thing.  But I’m a little more concerned with the grey area in which I fall.  I can do the handwriting thing, and I do get by in a school where I have to use handwriting all the time.  It’s just something that makes school that much more difficult.  It means when I write an essay, I forget things I meant to write about because I can’t write anywhere near as fast as I think.  It means I run out of time writing on tests sometimes if I’m writing neatly, but if I try to finish in time, my handwriting isn’t the most legible.  It means I’m missing out on a lot of information in class.  But because I’m not disabled, I can’t not handwrite.