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Goal Setting for those with ADHD and ASD

Does your adolescent cringe at the term goal? Or does your adolescent seem to give up or seem to almost never follow through on goals?

Executive Skill Challenges

Goal setting, task initiation, time management, working memory, staying on task are all executive skills necessary to start and complete the journey of attaining a goal. These things are already difficult without dealing with neurodivergent symptoms and tendencies. Usually, we look at challenges with executive skills in order to teach the skills to strengthen executive functioning. Sometimes teaching executive skills independent of each other is beneficial, but sometimes it is not. I find that teaching executive skills while trying to attain a goal is more effective because one executive skill is always being strengthened by another more efficient executive skill. The process will repeat itself until most skills are being used and strengthened.

Steps within steps will need to be identified in order to make manageable, realistic goals.

Example Goal: Apply for 3 jobs by the end of the week

Most likely a disorganized brain will know what this means, but have no idea how to execute. The steps involved are too numerous to someone with executive function challenges. So, let's think about the thought processing that needs to go into initiating this goal.

What kind of job should I search for, part-time or full-time, where is the best place to search, what key words should I use, do I need to register, what information do I need to fill out an application. These thoughts are just the beginning. A person has to have these thoughts in order to answer these questions through prior knowledge or research, which adds another element. If a gap appears in the process than the brain may get stuck and eventually discontinue the task.

Before starting a goal it is best to help your child prepare the thought process for all of the sub-goals that go into attaining a goal. Identifying as many baby steps as possible will reduce anxiety as it will make a large task feel so much more manageable and realistic. The term "baby steps" is used to define steps toward a goal for those who need extra time and extra care when learning ways to reach those goals.

Emotional Regulation Challenges

Small steps are necessary, especially when obstacles jump in the way. For kids and teens with ADHD and ASD those obstacles can be ANYTHING! An incoming text message, feeling hungry, noise, a worried thought, or any thought that pops up, a visual distraction, etc. What seems to be a small distraction to us actually FEELS much larger because a small distraction will throw them off-task. Now, your child has to overcome a TRANSITION on top of trying to stay on track to manage the baby steps needed to attain a goal. These transitions can be almost neurologically impossible in a timely fashion. What does this look like to outsiders? Frustration, verbal outbursts, anger, defiance, aggression, meltdowns, crying, eloping, etc.

Tips: Don't take these behaviors personally, recognize that these behaviors are a reaction to overstimulation as the brains thoughts are not keeping up with the experience, give your child's brain time to settle in order to make the transition--this could be any amount of time :( Taking time to observe the reaction and time it takes to self-regulate will help you prepare for future events. Trying to calm or help usually does not in the moment, it is not personal, the brain needs a chance to reset.

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