At Jack’s very first pediatrician appointment as a newborn, the doctor put him on the table, scrunched all his limbs together and then let go. Jack startled, then calmed.

“That’s good,” she said, “He can organize himself.”


Eight years later, Jack is trying to do a math worksheet. He has every bit of intelligence needed to complete the work, but each question requires multiple steps and multiple answers. Jack is smart, but his executive function deficits are keeping him from being able to do the work. Jack and I work on it for 30 minutes, me deliberately not feeding him the questions and steps. I want to see if he can do it.

He can’t.

Executive dysfunction defeats intelligence.


Inside my chest things get tight and yet fluttery and jumpy. I know this feeling well. It is the way I feel when I have a sensory problem and it is also the way I feel when I can’t make Jack’s natural smarts and logical mind defeat the so, so simple organizational quandry he is faced with when asked to complete a math worksheet made up of one long story problem broken into three parts.

I have a flash of clarity about why he is having so much trouble and it occurs to me that I wouldn’t want to do it either. But then I am left with the question: If I help him, am I feeding him the answers? Or am I giving him tools with which he can learn to organize the problem himself?

I don’t know what they do at school. Is the para organizing for him or does he do it himself when he is there? Who is helping him with his math at school and how much? Is he learning the math or is he learning how to get us to give him the answers

My patience at Jack is waning but that knot in my chest is still there. My own body organization is failing.


I wish it were simple. I wish it were only a matter of realizing that we are not falling. I wish it were easier again to organize ourselves.

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