Developing Executive Functioning Skills
Executive functioning skills help teens with remembering useful information, practicing self-control, and managing their time. Discovery Ranch for Girls (DRG) is a residential treatment center that helps teen girls with a variety of problems, including executive functioning deficits. DRG is not a teen boot camp. It is a residential care program that helps troubled youth develop the skills they need for success.
“Executive functioning is the ability to organize one’s day, habits, and/or time, in order to most effectively accomplish what one wants to in a day,” said Academic Director Clint Firth.
Deficits in executive functioning can leave students struggling to manage their daily lives. The highly structured nature of the program also helps students improve their executive functioning skills. They learn how to organize their days simply by working their way through the program.
“When it comes to executive functioning, treatment is inherently integrated into the program in different ways. Basically, from the time students wake up until they go to bed, there is a set structure,” said therapist Dr. Sidney Dang. “That set structure and schedule is a large model that lets us see how students are able to adapt to the schedule.”
Understanding how a student adapts to a schedule helps staff members identify which aspect of executive functioning is a problem for her. After they identify the problem, each department at DRG works together to find a solution.
When a student first arrives at DRG, she requires a great deal of structure and supervision. The level of structure and supervision decreases as students progress through the program. This structure is called the Phase System.
“Each phase will come with new privileges, but also, in addition to that comes new responsibility,” said Sidney.
Students earn trust by making healthy choices and demonstrating responsible behaviors. For students to progress, they must show that they are capable of succeeding with decreased supervision. Therefore, the Phase System helps prepare students to return home.
“One common misconception about executive functioning support is that it breeds dependence. That is not the case when done correctly,” said Clint. “Effective executive functioning support provides the students with scaffolding and support to help them develop good habits and new organizational and time-management skills and then incrementally tapers off once these skills and habits have solidified. Students who lack the ability to keep themselves organized using sheer brain power learn to adopt schedules, lists, material organizers, and work habits to compensate. These skills become habitual, and what once was a weakness for the student becomes a strength. Students with explicitly defined and habitual executive functioning skills are often able to handle much more complex and challenging situations than students who merely rely on their brain power, as intelligent as they may be.”
Returning Home with New Skills
The skills students learn at DRG help them long after they graduate. When students return home, they will have a better understanding of their own abilities. DRG helps students learn how to leverage their strengths. They also develop strategies to help them cope with areas where they continue to struggle. Because executive functioning influences so many aspects of people’s lives, helping students develop those skills can transform their lives.