What does it look like when it’s done?
Sarah Ward, M.S., CCC-SLP brings us this fabulous question from her executive function-directed therapy. The concept is rather simple: start with the end in mind…then go back and figure out how to get there. Despite its simplicity, I am finding that structuring tasks around this one little question can radically alter the outcomes for the better. Although it’s often promoted as a great strategy for working with kids who have social cognition and executive functioning deficits, I would argue that Sarah’s method is relevant in just about every nook and cranny of our lives!
Toddler, child, adult…we rely on this structure all the time. “You’re done with dinner when your broccoli is gone.” “I’ll know you’re ready to have a cookie when all the toys are put away.” “We’ll leave the house when you’re completely ready to go…not with only one shoe on.” I even came across an example while walking through the hair-care aisle at Walgreens: boxed hair dye! The first thing you’d consider when buying a box of hair dye is: What’s the end result? Or as Sarah Ward would say: What does it look like when it’s done? Not only is this question paramount in helping you decide whether to buy the dye in the first place (yes, blond and purple are verrrrrrry different colors), but it also gives the critical visual cue of “See this little swatch of color on the bottom? We call that Maple Walnut Espresso Chocolate Surprise. That is what your hair shall look like in a mere 25 minutes. If it’s lighter than Maple Walnut Espresso Chocolate Surprise, leave it on longer. If it’s darker…oops.” Only after you’ve internalized the end result do you go back and figure out what tools you need for those luscious new locks (dye kit, towel, comb, etc.) and the steps you should follow to get to the end result.
College courses are on board with “What does it look like when it’s done?” every time a professor passes out a syllabus. As professors, we give syllabi to our students to tell them: “This is what your quarter/semester will look like! These are the projects you must complete, here are the dates for their completion, and these are the specific instructions for each project.” The students know what the expectations are before class 1 even begins, theoretically giving them a chance to organize their time to meet those expectations.
So why do we use this structure in so many parts of our lives? Because it works! In my very humble opinion, recognizing the power of starting with the end in mind should be pervasive in how we plan and present our therapy each and every day. For those already working with kids who have executive functioning deficits, this is your jam! For those who work with other populations, though, here are a couple simple ways you can begin to embed Sarah Ward’s “What does it look like when it’s done?” mindset into your daily routines:
- Before starting therapy with any new client, take the time to tell them and/or their parent (or guardian) what it will look like when it’s time to exit from therapy. None of us have crystal balls that can confidently determine how much progress every child or adult can make. That being said, I lately have been hearing from parents that they go into into therapy with no clear idea of what their child is supposed to look like at the end. Although this is a great strategy for kids with clear-cut challenges (e.g., “We’ll know Dudefriend is ready to leave therapy when he can say his “s” sound correctly in conversations.”), it may be even more important for clients with more pervasive impairments. What does the end of therapy look like for a child with moderate autism? Or Down syndrome? Does it look like a typically developing child? I don’t think so. Instead of leaving parents and clients in this realm of uncertainly, “What does it look like when it’s done?” can more clearly outline therapy benchmarks or exit times for everyone on board! If it doesn’t make sense to define the very end of therapy right at the get-go, start by defining your first benchmark: “We’ll know it’s time to move onto new goals when Dudefriend looks like X/can do X/ meets X expectations…”
- Use the “What does it look like when it’s done” strategy to provide clients with clear expectations for a task. Instead of saying, “Now I want you to use your skinny “s” to read this sentence,” you can say “Here’s what reading looks like when it’s done…” with a model of the skinny “s” in all the target words in a similar sentence. Kids with social-cognition challenges benefit from this structure ten-fold. I go so far as to take a picture on my iPad of what the task looks like when it’s done so we have an extremely clear model available. What does reviewing Social Detective terms look like when it’s done? It looks like all the visuals are put back into my client’s paper tool kit and he’s sitting with a calm body (I literally take a picture of that before we start actually reviewing the term). Only when that model is in place do we go back and gather the tools we’ll need for completing the task, determine the necessary steps, and begin working. It should be no shocker to anyone that kids perform better when they understand the expectations being placed on them ahead of time. We should never assume that our clients can read our minds to know what we want them to do (I mean, come ON, when has that ever worked with a kid?!?). Working with them to determine what the end result looks like at the onset can be the difference between success and significant frustration!
I highly encourage readers who are unfamiliar with the rest of Sarah Ward’s Get Ready, Do, Done method to learn more about it and begin implementing it with your clients. This structure for completing tasks can be replicated in the clinic, in the classroom, at home…you name it! I am a big proponent of strategies that are applicable in all settings for a given client, and this is one that’s right on the mark!