There is a part of the brain, the frontal lobe, that helps us self- regulate our reactions to external stimuli and manage our time. Executive Functioning allows us to plan, organize, strategize, pay attention to and remember details, and manage time and space. Students with learning disabilities and ADD often exhibit weaknesses in one or more of these areas. Understanding the importance of what Executive Functioning does and how it contributes to a child's success in school is important before steps can be taken to develop the needed skills.


As a 9th grade Resource Specialist, and Academic Coach/Tutor, I see students who struggle with school because they have not adequately developed the ability to self-regulate. For many students entering the 9th grade the change in environment (larger school with more distractions, different modes of learning, more independent), and less time in school to complete assignments and tasks contribute to problems in school despite having average to above average intelligence.

Research on Executive Functioning has identified 8 areas of development that directly effect a child's success in and out of school. Those 8 areas are:

1. Impulse Control/Inhibition — the ability to stop and think before acting.

2. Emotional Control — the ability to manage feelings in different situations.

3. Flexibility/ Shifting — the ability to change strategies or revise plans when conditions merit change.

4. Working Memory — the ability to hold information and use it to complete a task.

5. Self-Monitoring — the ability to monitor and evaluate your own performance during the activity.

6. Planning and Setting Priorities — the ability to create steps to reach a goal.

7. Task Initiation (Getting Started) — the ability to recognize when it’s time to get started on something and then to begin without procrastinating.

8. Organization — the ability to maintain systems to keep track of information or materials.


1. Impulse Control

  • This skill tends to be first on most lists and is a fundamental weakness in many children with AD/HD.

  • A child with weak impulse control says or does things at the spur of the moment. These children may pay much more attention to their text messages or the color of someone's shoes than to their schoolwork.

  • They will do whatever pleasurable thing comes along without considering the obligations associated with the thing.

  • Children with this weakness often speed through schoolwork, sacrificing accuracy and completeness along the way.

  • If your child needs help with this skill, he or she may:

    • interrupt a lot

    • chatter excessively

    • speak out of turn

    • not get started on homework until close to bedtime

    • make impulsive decisions that interfere with school demands

    • rush through assignments without reading directions or checking work

    • be very inconsistent

    • following rules one day but not the next

2. Emotional Control

  • Children who can’t manage their emotions have trouble accepting criticism.

  • They’re quick to call a situation “unfair.”

  • They overreact to losing a game or getting called on in class.

  • They have difficulty sticking with schoolwork when they are distressed about something.

  • If your child needs help with this skill, she or he may be easily frustrated and quick to give up

  • be unable to tolerate corrections or criticism

  • find it difficult to calm down and do homework

  • have trouble postponing play or favorite activities until work is done

3. Flexibility

  • A child who behaves in ways that are inflexible.

  • has difficulty when a routine is disrupted or when a task that seems easy becomes complicated

  • This child gets frustrated when a first attempt to solve a problem isn’t successful.

  • She or he is unable to see other ways to do familiar tasks or to make another choice when the first choice proves unworkable.

  • If your child needs help with this skill, he or she may:

    • not tolerate a change of strategy or tactics

    • have difficulty with open-ended assignments that require brainstorming

    • panic when there’s a lot to remember

    • panic when the end is not in sight

    • have trouble with transitions

4. Working Memory

  • Children with weaknesses in working memory are unable to remember and apply learned  information in order to move to the next step

  • They falter when a task requires that they remember a sequence of directions, generate ideas in response to the directions, and then express their ideas.

  • Information just doesn’t “stick” for them.

  • If your child needs help with this skill, she or he may:

  • have trouble following directions, particularly when they are only given orally

    • have difficulty with writing and other complex, multi-step tasks

    • not remember what has just been read or explained

    • have trouble taking notes in class

    • forget to take what they need to school or to class

5. Self-Monitoring

  • Children who are weak at monitoring themselves may not notice that they’re not following directions until someone points this out.

  • They tend to misjudge their own efforts and have trouble adjusting what they’re doing based on feedback or cues.

  • They are often completely surprised by a low grade on a test or project.

  • If your child needs help with this skill, he or she may:

    • make seemingly careless errors in math

    • have trouble proofreading and checking work

    • not notice when off on a tangent or not following directions

    • lose sight of goals and endpoints

    • skip test questions without noticing

    • do things too fast or not pay attention to time limits and end up running out of time

    • forget the steps of, say, long division, when trying to solve a math problem

6. Planning and Setting Priorities

  • Children who have difficulty planning and setting priorities are easily overwhelmed by complicated, multi-part tasks.

  • They can’t independently impose structure and order on their ideas.

  • They have trouble thinking through the steps required to achieve a goal.

  • They tend to underestimate a project’s complexity and time requirements.

  • If your child needs help with this skill, she or he may :

    • come to class unprepared

    • underestimate how much time and effort a project will take

    • become overwhelmed trying to juggle multiple projects and classes

    • have trouble identifying the main idea or most important information in what is read or heard

7. Task Initiation (Getting Started)

  • A child who is weak in this skill will have trouble starting homework and will put off projects until the last minute.

  • This child is sometimes seen as lazy or unmotivated — keep in mind that this child may procrastinate because he or she really doesn’t know how to start.

  • Many children who have difficulty getting started also have trouble with planning and organizing.

  • They get overwhelmed by all they have to do, so they don’t do anything.

  • If your child needs help with this skill, he or she may:

    • have trouble getting started even after being given directions and told to begin

    • find reasons not to begin homework at the agreed-upon time

    • be unable to complete three or four assignments in a row

    • have difficulty following multi-step routines

    • often turn assignments in late

    • stare at a paper or screen, unable to begin writing

8. Organization

  • This skill is closely tied to skills 6 and 7: planning and setting priorities and task initiation.

  • Children lacking organizational skills lose permission slips, assignment sheets, notebooks, and library books.

  • They do not notably improve their organizational skills as a consequence of their disorganization (for example, if they lose their homework, they get a failing grade).

  • Children with poor skills in this area may:

    • understand the value of organization but are unable to discover ways to keep track of things.

    • do homework but neglect to turn it in

    • have trouble organizing their work and living space, materials, paperwork, and computer files

    • come into class without needed materials

    • often arrive late or turn in assignments late do sloppy or incomplete work

  • As schoolwork gets harder and students are asked to be more independent learners, children with weak executive skills fall further and further behind.

Some may say that all kids demonstrate one or more more of these characteristics.  The question is do the characteristics hamper one's ability in school?

To initiate a starting point for determining the impact of a child's executive functioning abilities I've modified an assessment tool / survey that compares a student's perceptions on situations to a parent's  perceptions.  The tool is not intended to be clinically significant nor should one consider it a diagnostic tool.  It is merely a means to determine if parents and children have different opinions on the impact of executive functioning skills.  After the survey is presented to the child a parent completes the same questions, without looking at the child's response and the scores are compared. If you would like a copy of the survey please click the link to access.  You'll be sent to login page if you are not a registered member of Enlightening Learners.  Once registered you'll be sent to the page which contains the document.

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