The Chicago Family Tutor exists to support individuals, students and families to find solutions that work for them and are sustainable throughout life. For many people, the trial and error of finding those solutions can be exhausting without support. And many times, the follow-through and consistent implementation of those solutions is often difficult without accountability. In this interview with Eileen, we will discuss what makes a solution effective and how to find the support that you and your family needs.
Eileen Nordmeyer has worked with children, families and adults as a licensed, credentialed Speech Language Pathologist for 26 years. She has a bachelor’s degree in Speech and Hearing Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Master’s degree in Speech Language Pathology from the University of Iowa. Eileen now enjoys applying her professional background and experience as an executive function coach and tutor.
Q: What was your biggest challenge as a student and what did you gain from that challenge?
A: I was always a high performing student, and I took my job seriously. I had a heavy course load and really challenged myself academically. This helped me learn how to prioritize, while also making sure that none of my classes were neglected. It forced me to develop effective study skills and organization skills. One of my old college roommates just sent me a text teasing me about my to do lists, so I think that is evidence that the skills I developed as a student have stayed with me throughout my life.
Q: As a speech pathologist, what have you learned about executive functioning and what it takes to reach challenging goals?
A: Speech Language Pathologists have a great understanding of the brain and how the brain works, as well as understanding normal development and what should be expected. This allows me to set goals that are appropriate and achievable. It also helps me look at the bigger picture, break down tasks, figure out a plan to achieve these goals and the level of support that is needed for success. I’ve learned that there is no cookie cutter approach and know that you have to find what works for these students and their families. I’ve also learned how to adapt the skills that you have to get the end result that you’re looking for.
Q: What is it that makes a solution actually work for an individual or family? How do you move from an ideal standard to putting it into practice?
A: I think that it’s important to get students and families to realize that these solutions are not always something that they need to make extra time for, but are things that can be worked into their day. Changing someone’s focus from thinking that this is extra work that they have to do, to realizing that this is something they can do in their everyday life and actually see improvements is key. A lot of times you don’t even realize that when you’re completing every day tasks, like grocery shopping, you are doing things like planning, managing time, organizing, working on memory, prioritizing…For a lot of us, these skills are innate. We don’t have to think about that. But when we’re trying to teach those skills to a child, taking the time to talk it through as you complete these daily tasks, helps develop those skills. And you didn’t have to make extra time to do it.
Q: You mentioned before we started this interview about becoming a parent, so could you tell me more about that? How did becoming a parent influence how you practice professionally?
A: The realities and the demands of parenting was eye opening and made me realize that as a professional I didn’t want to place any more demands on parents. That really changed the way that I practice, because by adding one more thing to an already overburdened parent, you are not going to get the end result that you are looking for. But if you work with that parent and come up with real strategies and real solutions that are doable, you will empower them. Becoming a parent gave me insight about how families work and how to effectively work with them.
Q: Why is mindset important to effective self-management and achieving goals?
A: It’s really easy for
things to become a self-fulfilling prophecy when you constantly are failing at something. So, if you’re not good at time management or organization, it’s easy for that to become who you think you are. “I’m always late”, or “I always lose papers.” And that can lead to all sorts of stress and anxiety and negativity. It is important to realize that challenges do not define you. I think that everybody feels that way about their inadequacies, but remembering that when you find the routines, habits and strategies to address these areas, you can and will have success.
Q: How do you make that shift from identifying yourself based on your shortcomings to identifying yourself in a more accurate way?
A: I really like adding that phrase “yet.” So, “I can’t do this, yet.” Or “this is something I struggle with, I’m not good at this – yet.” It helps remind you that you are working and learning and growing. While it is important to identify challenges, it’s more important to realize that you can make changes, and that you are continuing to progress. I like to remind people to put a “yet” on the end of that phrase, because all of us will get there. You just might need to work at it a little bit harder.
I can’t do this…yet. I’m not good at this…yet. I like to remind people to put a “yet” on the end of that phrase, because all of us will get there.
Q: What is your favorite executive function tool or practice that you use in your life right now? And how have those tools and practices changed over time or in different seasons of life?
A: I’m still a list maker, and find it helpful to have my to do list broken down into time frames-what needs to get done today, this week and long term. I still use paper lists, but now have incorporated technology with the notes app, reminders and calendar on my phone. I have to admit that I’m one of those people who likes to check things off my list, there’s just a sense of satisfaction that comes with that. To answer the question for my kids, one of the biggest things that have helped them is coming up with a schedule for their weekends. We figure out what they have to do and what they want to do. Getting this down on paper allows them to see the bigger picture of what needs to get done and when they have time to do it. This helps avoid the Sunday night crunch of “I forgot about this homework” or having to turn down plans because they put off doing something important. It gives them a little bit of a schedule but also teaches them how they can have flexibility and move things around once they have a visual of their weekend. Oftentimes we just grab a scrap piece of paper and block it out that way, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It just has to be something that they can refer to. And that seems to really help our weekends go a lot smoother.
Q: At times, students can have a lot of resistance to writing things down. Have you experienced that – being a list maker – and how have you been able to teach that value?
A: I have. I think that when this happens, you have to figure out what is getting in the way. It may be that they are a different kind of learner or would respond to a different kind of cuing. With my daughter, we could have a million written to do lists, but they didn’t even register with her. So, for example, with her morning routine, we began to physically put the needed items on the counter and after they were used, she put them back away. We created a different kind of “to do” list. I’ve also used photographs, or drawings that they’ve done themselves. You can always find new ways to teach a skill, especially when you take a collaborative approach.
Q: How do you set appropriate expectations for how long it can take to see progress in executive functioning skills?
A: The first thing is getting families to understand what is reasonable for their child developmentally, and getting them to understand that like anything in life, there’s steps to getting there. You can start by asking questions like “What is creating problems in your house?” and then breaking it down into the steps to address this issue. You need to reassure families that you will make progress, but that you can’t just jump from A to Z. You have to go step-by-step and break it down into levels that will promote success. Because if you’re not having success, no one’s going to be happy or engaged. It’s just like any new habit. You can’t walk out the door and expect to never smoke again or immediately start exercising five times a week. You have to set yourself up to have success, and sometimes that means taking smaller steps to get there. When you experience success, that creates motivation, and with motivation you are more likely to see ongoing progress.
You have to set yourself up to have success, and sometimes that means taking smaller steps to get there.
Thank you for joining this conversation with Eileen. If you connected with this Q&A, let us know your thoughts below. We would love to hear from you! Interested in working with one of our coaches? Please fill out this contact form so we can schedule a free consultation with you.