Executive Functioning: Practical Tips and Strategies for our Unorganized Kids

What Are Executive Functions? A set of complex mental skills that allow for goal-oriented behavior

Everyone understands these skills differently, but we have divided them up into ten major categories (focus areas) so you can see what deficits within each may result in:

Inhibition: Impulsivity and difficulty waiting to be called on

Shifting Sets (Transitioning): Perseveration, difficulty thinking on their feet, trouble transitioning between activities/spaces

Emotional Control (Regulation): Easily upset or explosive

Initiation: Trouble getting started or knowing how to begin an activity

Organization: A scattered approach to problem-solving, disorganized thinking and/or workspace, easily overwhelmed

Working Memory: Troubles with sequencing, retaining information while doing something with it, and keeping track of more than one thing at a time

Planning: Not finishing work on time, not thinking ahead, not prioritizing

Self-Monitoring: Does not check work for mistakes, unaware of own behavior and impact on others, not knowing when to ask for help

Attention: Problems focusing and attending to tasks, easily distracted by internal or external stimuli

Motivation: Difficulty with maintaining effort

The Important Stuff...What Can We Do? Structure is one of the most critical elements:

  1. Clear communication, expectations, rules, consequences
  2. Following a clearly-defined schedule (when possible!)
  3. Clean desk/workspace

Teaching Students with Executive Functioning Deficits:

  • teach new skills systematically and explicitly
  • minimize demands on working memory and processing speed
  • use visual, auditory, and tactile/kinesthetic strategies
  • allow extra time for verbal responses to questions
  • use and teach students to use color-coding
  • teach organizational skills (we do this in our Study Skills classes at WEDS!)
  • long-term assignments must be broken down into manageable parts
  • establish and maintain eye-contact 
  • check for understanding when you give directions, or even ask them to repeat the directions back to you
  • provide students with choices
  • use visual reminders (e.g., charts, sticky notes, etc.)
  • establish routines

As Parents, What Can You Do? You can do everything mentioned above at home, and even some of these:

  • model the use of executive skills - demonstrate how you plan and organize (e.g., writing in your calendar, putting books/toys back in their proper place, etc.)
  • promote activities that require planning and include the kids
    • play games with directions, recipes for cooking


Alyson Rumley, M.S. CCC-SLP