When I was in law school I went to one of my professors to ask him for a letter of recommendation for a summer position I was applying for.
“Sure,” he answered. “You got an “A” in my class.”
I stopped for a moment and then told him that an “A” in his class was not on my grade report.
“You did “A” work, I am certain of it” he said as he picked up the phone and called the law school’s registrar office. He asked a few questions, listened, grunted a few times and then hung up.
“I forgot. Your grade was one of the ones I had to lower to make it fit the curve.”
At that moment I realized that striving for an “A” over a “B” was useless for for measuring my understanding of the material I was studying; that the difference between an “A” and a “B” were really not an indicator of where I needed to work more; and that it was not really a reflection of my skills.
What I really only needed to focus on was learning the material.
From that moment on I never looked at my grades again. As Professor Carol Dweck would put it, I went from a “now” focus on my grades to a “yet” focus on my learning.
Professor Carol Dweck is the Stanford professor who wrote Mindset regarding developing a “growth mindset,” the framework we are using with the Navigator to help him focus on motivation and push through in his school work.
In preparation for the Navigator’s return to school I recently watched her TED Talk about “The Power of Yet.”
She focused on how the word “yet” – used in the context of “something that hasn’t been learned yet” – takes education out of the realm of passing or failing, and into an understanding that education is a learning process.
When that happens, there is greater academic success.
The element I appreciated the most is the idea that intelligence is not fixed – instead we each have abilities to be developed, and that not running from difficulty, but embracing it, is a way to increase overall intelligence.
She stated that the way to achieve this growth mindset in children was to “praise process, not intelligence” – that is to praise
- the child’s genuine effort,
- strategies used,
- the child’s focus and perseverance,
- and improvement.
In other words, praising developing executive function skills.
Executive function challenges are common for people on the Autism spectrum. As Jeannie Davide-Rivera explains:
Those living with executive dysfunction often have difficulty reaching goals … All the steps required to make progress towards a specific goal gets jumbled together. The autistic person will often have trouble deciding what to do next (sequencing) in order to move themselves closer to the goal because all the tasks needed to be completed, are of equal importance (prioritizing), and need their attention now (no filter). It is important to remember that autistic individuals are detail-oriented and sometimes lose sight of the whole picture, project, or goal.
She recommends managing executive function challenges by “[k]eeping detailed lists, and prioritizing those lists ahead of time … to not have to rely on working short-term memory to keep track of the next task in the sequence.”
What does this mean for the Navigator?
I think it will mean praising his efforts, strategies, focus, perseverance, and improvement not necessarily in his academics, but in his learning how to keep detailed lists, prioritizing his lists and tasks ahead of time, and using the lists to keep track of his next tasks.
I believe if we start with praising his executive function skill building first, the rest will follow organically.
Originally published on Autism Mom August 2015.