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Nurturing Task-Initiation Skills in Twice-Exceptional Children

Updated: Feb 27


At The Lang School, our twice-exceptional (2e) learners exhibit outstanding intellectual abilities, diverse interests, and talents, alongside learning differences and executive functioning challenges. One of the most requested skills for support by teachers, parents, and students is task-initiation. Task-initiation involves the crucial ability to start and maintain activities, which is essential for long-term success and overall well-being. It is important to recognize that challenges with task-initiation often occur when expectations are either too high for individuals to confidently meet or when they lack interest in the task. In this post, we will explore practical strategies to help nurture task-initiation skills in your 2e child.


Understanding Task-Initiation Challenges


Task initiation challenges in 2e children can arise from various factors within their cognitive and emotional makeup. Executive function deficits, such as disorganized and poor time management skills, may impede their ability to begin tasks either independently or with assistance. Emotional challenges with perfectionism, anxiety, and fear of failure can create psychological barriers, resulting in procrastination or avoidance behaviors. These barriers can often create a cascading effect of increased anxiety and challenging demands; the already daunting task grows in size both realistically and in perception. In your 2e child, they most likely have experienced a combination of both the lack of planning skills, and the emotional barriers of challenging expectations. To illustrate the feeling of executive dysfunction, imagine feeling like a broken record player: you know what needs to be done and when it needs to be done, but the needle cannot drop into the groove to start the music.


Strategies for Supporting Task-Initiation:


Break Tasks into Manageable Steps:

Individuals facing challenges with task initiation often benefit from breaking down the task to make it more achievable. Large tasks can be daunting, often causing a feeling of paralysis in 2e learners. Teaching them to divide assignments or projects into smaller, manageable steps can alleviate this stress. Encourage them to focus on one step at a time, and celebrate achievements along the way to boost motivation; and hack their brains to release some feel-good chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin.


In our Learning Skills class for middle and upper schoolers, students practice breaking tasks down into smaller steps, working in short intervals (10-20 minutes), and taking breaks that involve movement, hydration, or getting a snack. As Lang educators, we consistently applaud students for their effort, provide targeted encouragement, and acknowledge sincere attempts. By simplifying tasks, your child can approach challenges confidently, recognize their abilities, and achieve success in areas that previously felt insurmountable.


Establish Routines and Structures:

Establishing consistent routines is essential for 2e children as it provides predictability, stability, and structure. Creating a well-organized environment with set times and spaces for homework, chores, and leisure activities is key. Visual schedules or checklists can act as tangible reminders, reducing the cognitive load associated with starting tasks. Additionally, neurodivergent individuals can benefit from "stacking routines." For example, a student in a learning skills class mentioned having a snack when they get home. After the snack, they move on to one of their assignments, followed by an at-home chore. The evening is then wrapped up with dinner and a preferred interest or activity. This “stacking of the routines” can mitigate the late night scramble to finish assignments, or the inevitable all-around avoidance.


Cultivate Self-Awareness and Self-Advocacy:

Encourage your child to reflect on their strengths, challenges, and preferred learning styles. Help them identify the best strategies for initiating tasks. Foster self-advocacy by empowering them to communicate their needs and seek assistance when necessary.


In Learning Skills classes, middle and upper school students are learning how to create an environment that supports their work. In these lessons, students focus on self-talk (specifically what is within their control), create mind-maps of their ideal workspaces (looks, sounds, feels like), set intentions by focusing on small tasks, and practice time management. The lesson concludes with discussions on taking helpful breaks, such as having a snack, taking a short walk, sharing progress with a parent or teacher, and limiting technology use.


Some students may quickly discover certain strategies that work best for them, and may begin to understand that their preferences will change as they grow older, acquire new skills, and recognize patterns in their learning experiences. Encourage your child to acknowledge the strategies that benefit them, remind them of their capabilities under optimal conditions, and celebrate when they express their needs clearly.


Some Final Thoughts


Supporting task-initiation in twice-exceptional children requires a multifaceted approach that addresses their unique cognitive, emotional, and motivational needs. By fostering a supportive environment, leveraging strengths, and teaching effective strategies, we can empower our exceptional learners to navigate tasks with confidence and autonomy. Remember, every small step forward is a victory worth celebrating on their journey toward success. Continue to encourage a growth mindset in your child, framing setbacks and challenges as opportunities for learning and growth. Recognize and celebrate every effort and accomplishment, no matter how small, and emphasize the value of perseverance and resilience in overcoming challenges.


TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read)

Introduction

  • Task-initiation involves the crucial ability to start and maintain activities

  • Challenges with task-initiation most often occur when expectations are either too high for individuals to confidently meet or when they lack interest in the task


Understanding Task-Initiation

  • Challenges in task-initiation skills stem from executive function deficits and emotional barriers

  • Challenges like poor time management, perfectionism, anxiety, and fear of failure can result in procrastination and avoidance behaviors, compounding stress and intensifying task demands.


Break tasks into manageable pieces

  • Problem solve with your child to make the task small and manageable

  • Encourage your child to work for short bursts of time 


Establish routines and structures

  • Make routines predictable, feasible, and that seamlessly integrate into your child’s life

  • Make things visual to limit the memory needs


Cultivate self-awareness and self-advocacy

  • Know what works for your child and help them to replicate those skills or strategies as often as possible

  • Support your child to think of how they can make this task easier for themselves


Extra Resources


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