Does my child have an Executive Functioning Disorder?

The new school year has begun but it doesn’t look familiar for many families.  Schedules may include half days, alternating days, or full-time remote with zoom classes.  These changes are not just limited to students in grades K-12.   Many college students remain home, taking either “synchronous” or “asynchronous” courses.   These changes have increased the challenges for students with “Executive Functioning” difficulties who may look like a cat trying to catch their tail. There may be a big energy expenditure but not much to show for it or there may be nothing being done.  You may be asking, what are  “Executive Functions”  and why are they important?  “Executive Functions” allow us to complete our daily tasks.  These functions include attention, planning, organization, prioritizing, working memory, cognitive flexibility, initiation, and self-monitoring.  You can think of them as your brain’s management team.

Parents are witnessing first hand how their children approach their schoolwork and the amount of structure needed to keep them on track.  The challenge of staying focused throughout the day has obviously been increased as learning at home has many available distractions.  Your children can run for a quick snack or throw the dog the ball for a quick game of catch.  College students may be sleeping in more and having difficulty completing all of the assigned homework each week as their classes may be asynchronous.  Many students also benefit from studying in the library and this option may not be currently available.

A day in the life a child with Executive Functioning difficulties may look something like this:

The alarm goes off and after several prompts from his mom-John gets out of bed.  He knows he has a lot to do but he doesn’t know where to start.  He needs to eat breakfast, get dressed, gather homework, pack lunch, and find his basketball uniform and sign on to his first class at 8:30.

After lots of prompts, reminders, and help from his mom-John gets to his computer but he’s ten minutes late and has missed the first directions.  It’s the second time he’s signed in late and he had missed the bus the morning he was scheduled to attend school in person.

John is anxiously bouncing in his seat trying to figure out what page everyone is on and what he is supposed to be doing.  He finally gets so frustrated he yells to his teacher to tell him what he missed.  She calmly reminds him he needs to sign in on time and reviews the assignment with him but, he missed the page number and needs to ask again.

Time for a break and John takes off to the kitchen to get a snack.  he loses track of time and gets back to his computer but he’s late again and the teacher is already in the middle of explaining Something…he just doesn’t know what.  The bouncing starts again and John can’t wait any longer; he blurts out another question but can’t follow all of the information.  It just seems like there are always gaps in what he is hearing so he cannot complete the assignment.

The school day is finally over and now it’s time to start his homework.  John looks at his planner and there is some information in it but the details are missing, including the due date and length of the book report.  John’s mom encouraged him to check the school website and when he cannot find all of the information he needs, she e-mails the teacher.

By the time John is able to research all of the homework and wait for his teacher to respond, the homework doesn’t get started until dinner time.  By now, John is starting to feel tired and has more difficulty focusing and following directions.  The work takes twice as long as expected and John finally goes to bed an hour later than scheduled.  The later bedtime increases the likelihood John will have difficulty getting out of bed tomorrow.  And so it goes.

Below are some suggestions for helping your children.  If you would like to discuss their specific needs please contact me directly.

  1. Create a written daily schedule. You can refer to this schedule throughout the day and use it as a checklist for rewards when appropriate.  Color code classes and match colors on the schedule with notebook colors for consistency.
  2. Encourage the use of a daily planner.  Help your child to predict and then track how long assignments take to complete.  The actual time of completion can help with future planning.  The daily planner can also be used to track longer term projects which are the most challenging to plan and execute completion.
  3. If you have younger children, have them create a clock with colored time slots for each of their subjects as well as breaks. This will help them with knowing what task they should be focused on throughout the day.
  4. Timers are great tools. If your child has difficulty working independently, you can set a timer and let them know that when the timer goes off, they get a break. You can also set the timer as reminder for your child to start or return to work.
  5. Set up a consistent space in the house that will become “the classroom.” You will want to keep distractions to a minimum so if you have a room without a TV, that may be a good option.
  6. Check their progress to determine if they are able to complete the work in the given time frame. Some children may require additional time to complete certain assignments and you want to allow for that in the schedule.
  7. Have your child take out only one subject of information at a time. Having too many books and papers spread out can lead to confusion and frustration.
  8. Watch for increased signs of stress in your child. The extended time away from their regular routines and activities can be more challenging for some children.
  9. Stay hydrated and watch sugar intake. Sheltering at home can be a nightmare as you attempt to limit sugary drinks and snacks.
  10. Keep regular sleep habits in place. Lack of sleep reduces our natural immune systems as well as our cognitive skills making it more difficult to focus.

If you believe your child has difficulties with Executive Functioning and you would like a consultation, please contact me at 732-977-7381 or doreen@thecognitivecoach.net

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641 Valley Road
Brielle, NJ 08730

doreen@thecognitivecoach.net
(732) 977-7381

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