Friday, April 9, 2010

Book Review: Smart but Scattered


Smart but Scattered, by Peg Dawson, EdD, and Richard Guare, PhD, is one of the reasons I combined my two blogs into one. Social Skills For Kids was aimed at parents of children with ASDs and ADHD and Coach for Asperger’s was aimed at adults with these conditions. But, often, resources work for both kids and adults, even when they’re aimed at one or the other, which is why I’m now writing this combined blog. For individuals of all ages, with Asperger's, ADHD, autism, an autism Spectrum disorder, or a combination, executive function can be a real problem.

Smart but Scattered calls itself “the revolutionary ‘Executive Skills’ approach to helping kids reach their potential”, and that the real benefit of this book. Executive function has been discussed a lot recently, and many people understand that deficits in executive functioning can impact all types of achievement. Smart but Scattered takes that rather abstract idea and brings it to a concrete, example and solution packed level.

The book details what the authors consider the 11 skills that make up executive function: response inhibition, working memory, emotional control, sustained attention, task initiation, planning and prioritization, organization, time management, goal-directed persistence, flexibility and metacognition. As an engineer, I learned that any time you can break a problem down into small parts, it’s much easier to solve. This list is probably the best breakdown of the executive skills that I’ve seen in a book for kids or adults.

From my work with clients, I know that individuals struggle with different aspects of these executive skills, and that most people are pretty good at figuring out just where their problems are once they’re given a list like this. Sometimes it takes a bit of coaching, or detailed questions, but generally, both adults and teens can figure out their deficits. Parents usually know their own kids well enough to figure out where they’re struggling as well. Smart but Scattered takes a developmental approach to these skills which I find less practical, since growth at all levels can continue for a lifetime. But, the specific examples and definitions are helpful, and there are questionnaires for different ages, including adults.

The second half of the book lists plans for tackling specific tasks. It seems like parents could just as easily make up their own, more applicable plans, but for adults who struggle, these might be very helpful. Basic skills like cleaning a room or managing open ended tasks are not that easy without strong executive skills and these lists can be helpful. (For other detailed plans for adults, you can refer to Life and Love: Positive Strategies for Autistic Adults, by Zosia Zaks, as reviewed in a previous post.) Overall, Smart but Scattered is an easy read, filled with lists, table and charts to make it straightforward, and it could be very useful for parents, teens and adults.

Zaks