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Free online training helps kids with ADHD and autism spectrum disorder improve executive functioning

Children's Hospital Colorado is expanding access to the program, Unstuck and On Target, for teachers and families.

COLORADO, USA — It's National ADHD Awareness Month, and parents and teachers who have children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or autism spectrum disorder have a new way to help kids who may be struggling.

Unstuck and On Target helps elementary school-aged children improve executive functioning skills, including planning, organization and flexible thinking.

Children's Hospital Colorado is expanding access to the program with a $2 million contract from Pediatric Mental Health Institute by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute. It's now free and online for teachers and families to use. 

Credit: KUSA

Executive functioning can be a struggle for anybody at any age, but for kids with ADHD or autism spectrum disorder, it can make life debilitating. 

"There was just a lot of distractions. 'Oh, I forgot my shoes,'" said Mika Gans, a mother of three girls. "At bedtime, you’re reminding them for teeth brushing even though they’ve done it for nine years."

She said she noticed her fourth-grade daughter had trouble with executive functioning when she was 8 years old. 

"This child has left the house without shoes, which I can appreciate that she is so present in the moment that she forgot her shoes. There is a beauty to that," Gans said. "I think the class too, in my mind, made sure I wasn’t crushing that spark for her."

But she said it was also frustrating, as a parent and for her daughter, too.

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So their family started using Unstuck and On Target.

“It doesn’t just identify that the kid needs support and tools," Gans said. "It really identifies that the parents do too.”

"We see a lot of change in the kids who are doing Unstuck at school," said Dr. Laura Anthony, a psychologist at Children's Hospital Colorado. "It helps more parents. It helps more teachers and it helps more kids."

Anthony has been developing and researching the training since 2009. 

"Interventionists, school educators can just watch the training and pick up the book and start doing it with their students," she said. “They’ve told us it was really easy to do, didn’t take a lot of time and they saw a major impact on their students.”

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"Executive function difficulties often look like a kid won't do something, when actually it's that a kid can't do something," Anthony said. 

The training has recently gone online to expand access to teachers and families across the nation, for free. Before, the trainings were done in person.

"It's a little freeing as a parent to know that your kid is just stuck in a feeling and it's not about obedience," Gans said.

She said they've been using the training for about seven months now, and have already seen a positive change in their 10-year-old daughter. 

"She told me that she made a list of things she was going to do in the morning before school, and that's incredible," Gans said.

Credit: KUSA

"An elementary school kid who’s taking initiative to organize her morning, based on the goal of getting out the door, I do think has a lot to do with this program," she said.

Now, she said her daughter is more empowered in life than ever. 

"The end result is that she's proud of herself for accomplishing something and knows that that is a valuable lesson," Gans said. 

Anthony said executive functioning helps people be successful in all aspects of life. That's why they created this training to intervene early and change developmental trajectories for kids. 

For educators – Find resources on unstuckandontarget.com, including links to the free trainings, tips and tricks and FAQ.

For parents – Find resources on Unstuck and On Target YouTube.

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