Step Into the Shoes of a Child with Executive Functioning Challenges
Meet Tom, a high schooler with executive functioning challenges. He is smart, and has always passed his classes, although not always with the best grades. The challenges he has are a result of his brain’s self-management system having trouble getting organized, managing his time, and getting things done.
Executive functions are an important set of cognitive skills. Let us step into the shoes of a student with Executive Functioning issues to get a first hand account of how they impact a students day both inside and outside the classroom.
Tom knows he’s forgetting something for school. Ah, that’s it — his soccer uniform for today’s game. He runs back inside to get it, but he ends up leaving his backpack at home as he races to catch the bus. He sprints past the checklist his mom made to help him remember what he needs for school. But it’s too late: The bus is about to pull away. He’s going to miss it again….
Challenges related to executive function: What Executive Functioning Skills are Expected in High School
Tom is in class and his teacher asks, “Who can answer the first question on last night’s reading assignment?” Josh squirms, hoping he won’t be called on. He didn’t write the questions in his planner and has no idea how to answer them.
Challenges related to executive function: What Executive Functioning Skills are Expected in Middle School
The best part of the school day is lunch when Tom gets to talk with friends. However, he hogs the conversation, talking way too loud and too much about his video games. He doesn’t notice how annoyed his friends are getting.
Getting ready for a big soccer game and Tom is so focused on getting the ball that he doesn’t keep in mind which direction he’s supposed to run once he gets it. He quickly heads for the nearest goal and kicks the ball — right into his own team’s net.
Challenges related to executive function: Shifting focus, thinking flexibly
It is time for dinner and Tom’s mom tells him to get off his phone and get ready to come to the table. He is not finished with a game and pleads for 10 more minutes. He snaps at his sister when she tattles that he is not following directions. Frustrated with his sister and feeling like he has lost his ranking on his game, Tom loses his cool and screams at her.
Challenges related to executive function: Managing frustration, keeping emotions in check
After what feels like endless nagging from his mom, Tom sits down to do his homework. But he doesn’t know where to start. Instead of doing the book report or the math problems that are due tomorrow, he surfs the web to find a topic for his science report that’s due next week. Then he takes a break to play a video game.
Challenges related to executive function: Setting priorities, starting tasks
Finally, Tom starts the book report, his mind keeps jumping from one thought to another. He can’t figure out what to write and only gets one sentence down on paper before he gives up for the night. He thinks he can do more on the way to school tomorrow — even though he’s never gotten anything done while riding the bus with his friends.
Challenges related to executive function: Paying attention, staying on task, organization
It’s way past his bedtime. Tom is exhausted. He tries to go to sleep, but his thoughts are racing and he can’t shut off his brain. He keeps worrying about disappointing the teacher with his book report and getting heat from his teammates for kicking the ball into the wrong goal.
Challenges related to executive function: Anxiety, keeping emotions in check
About executive function
Many kids who learn and think differently have trouble with executive function. All kids with ADHD struggle with it.
These difficulties don’t mean kids aren’t smart. Brain differences make it hard for kids like Tom to focus, set goals, get started, and stay on task. This includes things like doing homework and daily routines.
These kinds of struggles are often misunderstood. People might think kids are just being lazy or aren’t capable of doing more. But with the right support, kids with executive functioning issues can thrive.
There are lots of ways to help at home and in school. Support can help kids like Josh get organized and stay on top of assignments. It can also help them feel less stressed and more confident.
Adapted from an NCLD infographic and the work of Thomas E. Brown, PhD.