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Task Initiation with Teenagers

Updated: May 15

Article by: Tara Pearson, COTA/L, ADHD-RSP

Does your teenager or child deal with chronic procrastination, mental fatigue with task transitions, or require excess prompting to begin an assignment? This may be a sign of a a weakness in a skill called Task Initiation.

We all depend on executive skills to complete a task and maintain routines. Children and adolescents with ADHD may feel an overwhelming reluctance to BEGIN a task. This is directly correlated with one of the executive functions in the prefrontal cortex of the brain called Task Initiation. Task Initiation is exactly how it sounds, it is the ability to understand what it takes to begin the occupation or task and then find the motivation to begin. Outcomes for poor task initiation include chronic procrastination, easily distracted upon beginning a task, or all together avoiding the occupation at hand. Some practical examples may be a child that puts their head on their desk when it is time to change to a new learning topic, a student that is capable of completing an assignment but cannot bring self to begin within a certain time frame, or a child that needs frequent reminders to begin a simple chore.

In order to combat poor task initiation, it is key to bring self awareness to "self-talk" statements that prevent the individual from completing the task. Below are are a list of common mindsets that prevent teenagers from starting a new assignment, task or occupation.

Mindset Obstacle

  1. I don’t understand the assignment or task.

  2. I don't know how to start the assignment or project.

  3. The task is way too boring for me even to consider doing it.

  4. I can't start or complete this assignment because I am too tired.

  5. This assignment is pointless. I would get nothing out of doing it.

  6. I need a certain environment or conditions for me to begin. If its not perfect then I cant begin.

  7. I have way too many things to do and don’t know how to prioritize my time.

  8. This will take too much time and I can't commit to spending this much time on an assignment.

  9. There are other things I’d rather be doing that are more fun or more important to me.

  10. The assignment isn’t going to affect my grade so why bother.

  11. I’m too stressed out about other things and can’t focus because of it.

  12. I would really like to start but I just can't find the motivation.

Encourage your teenagers to look at these phrases. See which ones they identify with the most. Then have them make a table or chart to document when these mindsets come up. Self-awareness of these thought patterns are the first step to overcome them.

Afterwards have your child write down practical strategies they can do to overcome these mindsets. Is it fatigue? Try taking a walk first while listening to your reading assignment on an audio-book. Is it because there's "no point"? Try creating a reward system for something you really want to do after you complete the assignment. Is it the environment? Write down what the conditions are to start. Is it a clean desk in your room or certain music playing in the background? Do this first and THEN START! Set yourself up for success with start-times and strategies to overcome mindsets ahead of time.

If poor task initiation and procrastination are interfering with your child's daily life and routines you may want to seek help from an occupational therapist. An OT will help develop an action plan using sensory strategies, cognitive training, skill acquisition, and practical approaches for ADHD.

Article by: Tara Pearson, COTA/L, ADHD-RSP

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Texarkana Therapy Center is a pediatric therapy clinic located in Texarkana Texas. We are committed to seeing our children grow, learn, and excel in all areas of their lives. Our team offers a multi-disciplinary approach through speech, physical, and occupational therapy. We are dedicated to providing exceptional care in a loving and nurturing environment for our patients and families.

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