Executive Function

Executive Functions At School

October 12, 2022

Executive functioning is something that school-age kids need to use all day!

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Children with ADHD need extra support with executive functions at school. As you are probably aware already, your child’s ADHD brain works differently! This is largely due to differences in executive functioning, which has a big impact in the classroom! 

What are the executive functions?

Simply put, executive functions are a set of skills that work together, kind of like the GPS of the brain. The purpose of the executive functions is to help us make a plan, stay on track, and complete our goals. They help us do what we are supposed to do… and they help us inhibit (or stop) the things we aren’t supposed to do!

Side note: If you are really interested in learning more about executive functioning, we have an entire module in our online ADHD parenting course, Creating Calm.  In this blog post, we will focus on how executive functioning affects your child’s ability to be independent and regulated in the classroom. 

Mini-goals throughout the day

If you think about the school day, your child is faced with tons of little “mini-goals” throughout the day! Let’s say your child’s teacher says, “Ok I want everyone to go get a white board, dry erase marker, and eraser, and sit back down.” This is a great example of the executive functions at school. In these situations, kids with ADHD can have a really hard time staying on track.

They might get up to grab a whiteboard, but notice that their water bottle isn’t full. They immediately want to go fill up their water bottle. The executive functions are the little voice that says, “No, I can’t fill my water bottle now. I need to go get my whiteboard!”

The executive functions would also help your child remember that the teacher asked them to get more than just their whiteboard. They also need their marker and eraser! Then they need to make it back to their seat without stopping to chat or getting distracted. 


Executive Functioning Differences

When your child has a diagnosis of ADHD, we know that there are significant differences in their executive functioning.

In fact, research shows that your child has approximately a 30% delay in executive functioning skills. That means that if you have a 10 year old child with ADHD, their executive functioning skills are more similar to a 7 year old. 

When you stop to think about it, executive functioning is something that school-age kids need to use all day. And to top it off, most tasks throughout your child’s day require multiple executive function skills to be working simultaneously together.

Executive Functions at School

Let’s take the example of completing a multiple-step science project. Your child needs to use the skill of initiation to get started on the task. They need to use the skill of working memory to hold in their mind the multiple steps involved and supplies needed to reach their goal. Also, they need to use the skill of planning to find the best way to finish the project. They need to use the skill of task-monitoring to frequently check-in with themselves and make sure they are still on task toward the final goal. Phew! It’s a brain workout for our kids with ADHD!

Executive functions are also needed to…

  • Stay flexible when plans change, like when there is a substitute teacher or a fire drill throws off their schedule.
  • Inhibit off-task behavior, like resisting the urge in the moment to stand up to sharpen their pencil when they should be sitting quietly as their teacher provides instruction.
  • Help manage time and schedules. Kids with ADHD often struggle to predict how long tasks will take, which can lead to overwhelm! They may hyperfocus on certain tasks and not realize the entire class has moved on.
  • Get started on challenging, boring, or repetitive tasks (hello, math facts!).
  • Stay calm and manage emotions when they don’t get picked first at recess, or when their team loses a game.

 The executive functions are needed all day, every day at school. No wonder our kids are coming home exhausted! 

You can get the support you need

In our online course, Shining at School, we share tons of accommodations and strategies to support your child with ADHD at school. We also walk you through the steps to getting your child evaluated, getting a plan into place (with accommodations to support executive functions) and what to do when things aren’t working. 

We are here to support you!

Have a beautiful week,

Lori, Katie, and Mallory


Disclaimer: The contents of this site are opinions of The Childhood Collective PLLC partners unless otherwise noted. The information on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any type of medical condition and is not intended as personalized medical/psychological advice. Any decision you make regarding you and your family’s health and medical treatments should be made with a qualified healthcare provider.

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We are Lori, Katie, & Mallory.

We are two child psychologists and a speech language pathologist. But most importantly, we are mamas, just like you.

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