This week a large group of TGS staff attended the JFK Partners 3rd Annual Autism Spectrum Disorders Conference. The topic was Executive Function, and we were quite pleased to note that flexibility (aka adaptability) was one of the executive function skills to be discussed. As we discussed accommodations to support students who have challenges with flexibility, “Flexible Adult” kept popping up. Our students need flexible adults to help them navigate the rapidly changing social world, and to create a safe environment where adaptability is supported, even if their initial adaptations may miss the mark.
Although executive function skills are often associated with academic success, adaptability is also critical in social situations. In a new environment, we scan the room to see what other people are doing in that setting. Are they taking a seat? We look for an empty chair. Are they waiting to be helped? We take a number, or join the line forming at the counter. Are they talking as they wait, or is the room quiet? Do we initiate friendly conversation, or pull out a smart phone and start reading email?
All of this comes more or less intuitively to socially-minded folks. But for our students, it’s a process, with steps, that has to be initiated and adapted in different settings. So we break down the steps, provide visual cues if needed, and offer lots of opportunities for practice. And when our students complain, “Adapt to interact…stop and read the room…yeah, yeah, we get it…” we just smile and flexibly adapt our activities and schedule to provide a just-right level of social support for each student, so everyone keeps learning and growing. Adaptability makes the TGS world go ’round!