Overview

Executive functions are mental skills that we all use every day to get things done. We use them to set goals, plan how we’re going to do something, prioritize, remember things, manage our time and possessions, and finish what we start. Some children have weaknesses in executive functions and, regardless of how bright they are, struggle to do schoolwork and stay on top of tasks as a result.

Executive functioning issues often go hand-in-hand with ADHD, but kids without ADHD can struggle with them as well.

Signs of executive functioning difficulties

Organizational issues:

  • Losing or forgetting important items on a regular basis
  • Being unable to maintain a clean room, desk, or locker

Time management difficulties:

  • Struggling to be on time due to disorganization or poor planning
  • Difficulty moving from one task to the next in a timely manner

Struggling to perform in school:

  • Difficulty memorizing facts, digesting important information, organizing thoughts in writing, solving multi-step problems, and completing and turning in homework.

How to help

If you suspect your child has executive functioning weaknesses:

  • Talk to your child’s teacher and ask her to give you a rundown of the things your child is struggling with.
  • Ask if the school psychologist can observe your child in the classroom. This can clarify the things he seems to be having trouble with, which will help you decide if testing is appropriate.
  • Have him tested. The most comprehensive way to assess a child’s executive functioning issues is a neuropsychological evaluation by a professional. Kids can also be tested using questionnaires, like the Behavior Rating Inventory for Executive Function (BRIEF), or a psychologist observation and assessment like the Cognitive Assessment System (CAS).
  • After identifying your child’s specific issues, her teacher and school psychologist can work together to find ways to support her in the classroom, focusing on strengths and providing help where needed. A learning specialist can help your child develop tools and systems to support and strengthen weaker areas. For example checklists, planners, and other organizational and time management tools can help kids stay organized at home and at school.
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