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Book Review: Late, Lost, and Unprepared

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


Late, Lost, and Unprepared
Cover image courtesy of Woodbine House

The Bottom Line

by Joyce Cooper-Kahn, PhD, and Laurie Dietzel, PhD; 217 pages. Subtitle: A Parent's Guide to Helping Children With Executive Functioning

Executive functioning is a often overlooked problem for kids with neurological and learning disabilities, and it's about time someone gave it this kind of attention. If your child just can't seem to get going or get organized, he may need to be taught those skills just as carefully as you'd teach reading and writing and math. This friendly guide will help you understand and make a difference.

About the About.com Review

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  • Executive functioning is an important topic that doesn't get enough attention
  • Makes a good case for adjusting expectations instead of assuming all kids know how to be organized
  • Gives specific tips and techniques parents can use to provide appropriate supports
  • Text is friendly and non-technical
  • "The Basics" boxes at the start of each chapter provide a good quick overview


  • Dismisses many executive-function-related disabilities as outside the scope of the book
  • Techniques and suggested things to say will need adjusting for kids with intellectual disabilities
  • I'm more interested in the hands-on chapters than the lengthy discussion of professional assessments
  • Would have been nice to include listing of helpful websites and organizations
  • Seems like a good start, but I'm looking forward to more help and ideas on the subject


  • Part 1: What You Need to Know
    Chapter 1: Introduction
    Chapter 2: What Is Executive Functioning
  • Chapter 3: Development of the Executive Functions
    Chapter 4: The Child's Experience of Executive Weaknesses
  • Chapter 5: Impact on the Family
    Chapter 6: Assessment: Figuring Out What's Wrong
  • Chapter 7: ADHD, Learning Disabilities, and Other Conditions Associated With Executive Dysfunction
  • Part 2: What You Can Do About It
    Chapter 8: How to Help -- An Overview
    Chapter 9: Behavior Change in a Nutshell
  • Chapter 10: If at First You Don't Succeed, Try a Few More Times Then ... Change Your Expectations
  • Chapter 11: Helping Children Control Impulses
    Chapter 12: Helping Children Shift Gears
  • Chapter 13: Helping Children Get Started on Homework and Other Tasks
  • Chapter 14: Helping Children Handle Working Memory Issues
    Chapter 15: Helping Children Plan and Organize
  • Chapter 16: Helping Children Monitor Their Behavior
    Chapter 17: Concluding Thoughts

Guide Review - Book Review: Late, Lost, and Unprepared

Just as we provide prostheses for someone who cannot walk otherwise, children with executive weakness need adults to adapt their environment and tasks when they do not yet have sufficient executive competence to succeed on their own. For this reason, Dr. Russell Barkley refers to the process of accommodating kids as building a "prosthetic environment." External support, limits, and supervision can all be types of prostheses.

This quote from Late, Lost, and Unprepared describes a type of intervention that's often denied kids with executive function problems, who are just expected to know how to be organized. We go to great pains to teach our children with neurological or learning problems to read or write or tie their shoes, but then expect that they'll know how to get their homework done or clean their rooms or structure their days all by themselves. For many kids, lack of initiative is not a moral choice, it's a specific disability. Providing accommodations and interventions to prevent poor outcomes and teach good habits is both practical and humane.

Late, Lost, and Unprepared gives a parent-friendly, accessible account of what executive functioning is, how it goes wrong, and what parents can do to help. If your child regularly fails to turn in completed homework, or gets lost in the middle of an easy chore, or does everything at the very last minute, it may be more a case of can't than won't. The authors, both psychologists, make a good case for adjusting expectations to a level that's appropriate for a child's current abilities, then fading supports and increasing self-sufficiency. You'll find tips on specific strategies to use, as well as samples of what you can say to your child and case studies of how the techniques have worked for other families.

The book puts most of its focus on children whose executive dysfunction is either independent of a specific diagnosis or linked to ADHD, learning disabilities, or autism. The authors dismiss a range of executive-function-related neurodevelopmental, genetic, medical, and psychiatric disorders as outside the book's scope, and only glancingly mention the diagnosis I'm most interested in -- Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder -- despite the fact that executive dysfunction is one of its hallmarks. I wish the authors had widened that scope a little bit, but even so, there's plenty here that parents of kids with greater challenges than those outlined can adapt to their own child's specific needs and abilities.

It's just nice to see someone writing about executive functioning at all. Parents and teachers need to understand that this is a real problem, and there are real solutions -- better solutions, certainly, than yelling and flunking and expecting the impossible.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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