Materials, Reviews

Executive Functioning in Speech Therapy

Unstuck and On Target 2

You know what really grinds my gears? Hearing professionals say that a student no longer needs intervention and services because “they know it all, they just refuse to use it” regarding things like organization, impulse control, regulation, and social skills. SO many of our students struggle with executive functioning difficulties in addition to their speech and language delays, making execution of newly learned skills incredibly difficult. Read on to learn more about an amazing executive functioning curriculum that I use in my speech room!

Executive functioning is a BIG term that encompasses many skills such as organization, impulse control, time management, focus, planning, follow through, emotional regulation, and problem solving.


I’d be willing to bet at least half of your caseload has difficulty with one or many of those skills. Am I right?

As SLPs, we are challenged with the task of making big gains in many areas in a short amount of time. I constantly question whether or not I’m working on the areas I should be and if what I’m working on will matter outside of the speech room, or outside of the classroom, or outside of the school. I want it to!

Many of the kiddos I saw last school year had difficulty with executive functioning skills and overall organization. I felt like those difficulties were impacting them academically and socially. With some of my kiddos, I worked on social skills until I was blue in the face but they still had trouble with them in natural contexts. Or we’d work on emotions and size of the problem for months but they’d still have major difficulties dealing with change in the real world. What is an SLP to do?!

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Enter in the Unstuck and On Target curriculum. I’m obsessed and I think you will be too!

This curriculum actually teaches HOW to be flexible, stay organized, and how to tackle difficult executive functioning skills. It is intended for children on the autism spectrum but I’ve also used it with children with other diagnosis’ such as language disorders or ADHD. It has even come in handy for some of my articulation kiddos who have difficulty with frustration tolerance!

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I should note that even I use some of the strategies in the book after reading it! If that isn’t a sign of a great, useful book I don’t know what is!

Overview: I own both books associated with this curriculum. The first, bigger one, contains all of the lesson plans and activities for the entire curriculum. I read through the entire book first to get a good picture of how the program progresses. It also contains a CD so you can easily print pages you need! No more cramming a book on the copier to make copies. 🙂

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The second, smaller book contains TONS of information. I wouldn’t pass up getting this one as well! I primarily use it to word great goals and objectives for IEPs (there is a huge bank of them), but it also contains information on how to incorporate executive functioning aids and tasks in daily living skills, how to use the vocabulary and scripts effectively, and how to best provide accommodations for kiddos who need them!

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This curriculum teaches kids how to:

  • Compromise with family and friends
  • Turn “big deals” into “little deals”
  • Move on to Plan B when Plan A doesn’t work
  • Make plans and carry them out
  • Solve problems independently
  • Be a good friend
  • Handle disappointments and unexpected events
  • Avoid “whims” that get them off track

Doesn’t that sound amazing?

I’ll give one example of the type of information this book provides and how I used it in therapy. Two of the bigger vocabulary words the book emphasizes are “Plan A” and “Plan B”. Let’s think about this scenario which happened to me recently:

“I’m driving to the airport. I hate flying, I’m constantly worried that I’m going to be late or that my flight will be delayed. I’m feeling increasingly anxious as I get closer to the airport. It’s in an unfamiliar area. I park, take the bus in, get my ticket, get through security. And sit at my gate. I decide I want to get a coffee and eat breakfast. While I’m waiting in line I pick out what I want. I get up to the counter and…. IT’S NOT AVAILABLE. Yes, you read that correctly. The breakfast I wanted wasn’t available.”

Something as simple as that might send some of our kids overboard… if they can even make it that long. So many of our kiddos might break down before they even get to the airport! Why didn’t I lose it? Because I’m flexible and able to change my mind and come up with a Plan B quickly. I have a script for this! I know to say “Oh no worries” and look back up at the menu and pick something else. I know that is what is appropriate and expected, but I also know the benefits of being flexible, how to be flexible, and how to make a backup plan.

Let’s relate this to therapy. For one of my student’s last year, if he had a good session and worked hard, he got to choose an activity for the last 5 minutes. He usually chose to go outside and play basketball! One day it was raining and he got incredibly upset. His preferred option (basketball outside) was not a choice and he was having a difficult time coming up with a Plan B in the moment. So, for every single future session, we made a Plan A AND a Plan B right at the beginning of the session. We might have said, “Okay so our Plan A for the end of the session is to play basketball. It might be raining, or there might be kids outside for recess, or the playground might be closed. What then? We need a Plan B! Our Plan B will be to play basketball in the gym. This is a good idea because we can still have fun at the end of the session!” We made Plan A and Plan B index cards and put a sticky note on them each day with the plan. Some days, I’d even say I didn’t feel like going outside to encourage my little friend to be flexible and go with his Plan B.

The trick here is to make these plans beforehand, not in the moment. How often do you make a Plan B beforehand? I do all.the.time. I use self-talk and prep what I’m going to do ahead of time! I do this at work to stay productive. For example, I might tell myself, “During my prep period, I’m going to write Shannon’s IEP. But, if I don’t finish laminating this question formulation packet, I’ll finish that first”. BOOM. I just made a Plan A and a Plan B. That way it’s easy for me to be flexible later on and be as productive as I can be!

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Hope that has semi-convinced you of the awesomeness of the topics presented in this book! This is just ONE of the vocabulary words and scripts and sections included and it’s so incredibly useful.

Let’s talk a bit about what is included in each section. For each topic, there are explicit lesson plans that are really low prep. They are interactive and often challenge your students to make inferences about what they think is going to happen!

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Each lesson includes classroom carryover sheets and activities, as well as home carryover sheets and activities.

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They really couldn’t make implementation much easier if they tried! I think this book/program could easily take an entire school year to do if you did all of the activities. They also make for great conversation starters!

Like I said, I implemented this last school year. You’re probably wondering what the results were. Overall, I loved it (it was sooo easy to implement), my students loved it (it was structured and engaging), and parents loved it (they saw carryover, loved the homework sheets, & felt involved). I felt like I had great information to help classroom teachers with some of the trickiest kids in their classrooms! After 2 months using this program, one of my students who had multiple behavioral issues a day (4-5 aggressive incidents a week), stopped in the middle of a meltdown and chose a Plan B. I almost cried guys, it was that amazing.

Below is a quick summary of my experiences with this program:

Age Range: 1st grade and up

Skills Targeted: Flexibility, on-task behavior, organization, social skills, size of the problem, compromising

Prep Required: Minimal to none, some lessons required extra materials that you’ll need to grab ahead of time (e.g,. spaghetti noodles, pipe cleaners), but I didn’t purchase anything extra

Grade: A à honestly one of the most useful programs/books I own

So, if you’re feeling stuck with students on your caseload that demonstrate poor impulse control, organization, social skills, and problem solving skills, I seriously urge you to check out these books! Even if you just know and use the vocabulary, this program will give you increased confidence to work with some of your more challenging students and do so with success! Go you!

Click the link below to check out the books on Amazon:

What are your thoughts? Does this seem like something you could use in your speech room?

{thanks for reading}

Note: I was provided with a copy of these books for free in exchange for my honest review! I loved them and I think you will too!

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Shannon

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7 Comment

  1. Reply
    Kayla P.
    July 27, 2016 at 10:58 AM

    Hi Shannon! This post gives me a lot to think about- thanks for sharing! I am curious about how you implemented this curriculum. Did you teach it directly to your therapy groups during therapy sessions/go into classrooms to teach it with the classroom teacher? Or did you use concepts and ideas from the curriculum and embed them into more traditional speech, language, and fluency therapy activities?

    1. Reply
      Shannon
      July 27, 2016 at 11:01 AM

      All of the above – honestly! I made it work for whatever service delivery I was using because I implemented it halfway through the school year. I went over it with several teachers who expressed greater concerns about some kiddos in their classrooms and their ability to regulate and stay focused in the classroom. I also did it with 1:1 sessions and in social group type sessions. For some kiddos, who didn’t have social/organization goals directly, I just did a few sessions here and there to introduce the vocabulary and visuals and I used them while we worked on other goal areas. For example, I had several articulation kiddos that had difficulty with executive functioning so for them I just introduced and used the visuals during their articulation sessions in order to increase time spent on task and overall flexibility with changes. Hope that helps and makes sense!! Thanks for your question.

  2. Reply
    Laura Trembly
    July 29, 2016 at 8:41 AM

    Hi! I was just wondering of you think these lessons would be good for High School age. I’m starting with this age in September and I think this sounds awesome!

    1. Reply
      Shannon
      July 31, 2016 at 1:56 PM

      I would think so, however I have very little experience with students that age and haven’t tried it. The vocabulary and worksheets and such are definitely not “baby-ish” though so I’d imagine it should!

  3. Reply
    Victoria
    August 15, 2016 at 11:18 PM

    Would this be too much for a preschooler to handle or do you think the strategies would work with a younger client.

    1. Reply
      Shannon
      August 16, 2016 at 8:19 PM

      I think it could work for the right preschooler. I did use some of the vocabulary with one preschooler of mine!

  4. Reply
    Kris at Social Village
    August 17, 2016 at 11:42 AM

    This sounds like a great curriculum. I have 2 kids with ADHD that may benefit from your suggestion. Thanks for the Amazon link to UnStuck & On Target. I’ll check it out.

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