Executive function disorder is fast becoming a known learning
disabilities diagnosis among elementary school children in our twenty-first
century schools. Learning more about this unique disability and how parents and
educators can guide these students to greater levels of achievement and success
Executive functions are those skills that allow one to
coordinate and integrate more fundamental knowledge and skills in an attempt to
pursue particular goals, and to adapt to changes in the environment .The
executive functions are concerned, not with what one knows and can do, but
rather, with how and whether one uses his/her knowledge and skills in goal
There are six specific areas that make up an individuals
executive function, they include:
- Inhibition of impulsive
- Flexibility of cognitive
- Abstract reasoning
- Organization and planning
- Working memory
- Interference control
these specific functions, current medical and educational research, and
additional information on the disorder can be found on the following reviewed
Organization and planning is a
component of EFD that specifically addresses an individualís ability to
prioritize tasks in order to achieve desired outcomes. Elementary students with organizational
difficulties can experiences many degrees of frustration across the curriculum
and throughout the school day. The
recommendations that follow are presented as a vehicle for parents and educators
to gain a greater understanding of organizational weakness in EFD and there
implications on learning. Many of
these strategies and techniques will help these students acquire greater access
to the curriculum.
A few GENERAL RECOMMENDATIONS are highlighted below, followed
by a more in depth look into organizational deficits as they pertain to;
INSTRUCTION, TESTING, and HOMEWORK.
In general the external support and structure provided for EFD students
can be used throughout all aspects of the general curriculum. In classrooms, these strategies can and
will provide benefit to all students who experience any type of organizational
A few simple starting points and principles are necessary
when working with children who experience difficulties with organization and
planning. Taking these points into
consideration will greatly improve the quality of school life for both the child
and the teacher.
- Commit to the student
and believe that you will find strategies that suit him/her.
- Remember that many of
the studentís behaviors and frustrations are related to his/her organizational
difficulties and should not be seen as defiant behavior.
- After presenting a new
technique or strategy always ask the student if he/she felt that new way was
provide consistency and continuity, keep communication between home and school
open, focusing on the techniques that are working/not working in both
- Anticipate the
studentís areas of difficulty and assist him/her in prioritizing tasks by
pre-planning and breaking things down into steps.
- Provide clutter-free
- Display clear schedule
charts that the student can constantly refer to.
- When possible, limit
the number of transitions from the classroom.
- Dialog with the student
after each incident of disorganization to determine ways to improve.
Learning new information and acquiring new academic skills
can be difficult when organizational skills are impaired. Students will require supports and
modifications to instruction in order to reach desired levels of learning. The following ideas should be developed
in consideration with an individualís learning style.
- Academic skills should
be taught in a meaningful context, not in isolation. The use of thematic teaching with
integrated skills is desirable.
information should be presented visually and verbally. It should always be previewed for new
concepts, new vocabulary and main ideas.
- Make material
meaningful through the use of: visual aids, handouts, maps, demonstrations,
experiments, discussions, and hands-on activities, always emphasizing the main
- Directions should
always be clearly and simply stated.
The student should often be asked to repeat/rephrase the instructions
to ensure understanding.
- Provide models and
examples of what is expected, particularly before the student is expected to
attempt an independent assignment.
- Assist the student in
retrieving previously learned material with the use of visualization,
memorization, and word cues.
team-teaching, cooperative learning and peer-modeling into a studentís school
experience. The ability of others to cue the learner broadens the scope of
- Always try to
reintroduce skills and topics previously covered to help the student with
- Start in the early
grades providing instruction on how to study. Such lessons and programs can cover
taking notes, making outlines, keeping assignment books, creating flashcards,
and structuring written assignments.
These study skills should be adopted within a school and developed at
each grade level.
- Students who experience
high degrees of disorganization can not only become frustrated but unhappy
students. As a teacher take the
time to foster the childís self-esteem within the classroom by highlighting
his/her strengths and accomplishments.
Testing can be a highly stressful situation for a student
with organizational deficits. Often
the studentís ability to retrieve learned information is inconsistent and does
not always provide a true picture of the studentís actual skill level and
present knowledge. Providing structure, consistency, and a willingness to
develop optional testing methods will help the student reinforce healthy testing
- Provide a quiet
environment free from external distractions.
- Encourage the student
to always ask for clarification.
- Test specific skills,
for example a science essay should focus on science not spelling and grammar.
- Limit the number of
questions on a test, always assessing what the student has learned. Be mindful that the quality of the
answer is more important that the quantity of questions.
- Know your studentís
learning style and be willing to provide alternative means of testing: oral exams, multiple-choice, fill in
the blanks with choices, etc.., Providing many
additional prompts will assist the student in correct retrieval.
- Provide a few cues
prior to testing to tap the studentís memory. Review the directions and questions
and encourage the student to recall the subject matter. For example, prior to a science test
the class may be reminded to recall a previous experiment.
- Provide extra time and
untimed testing situations, speed should seldom be
an expected factor.
that the student take time at the completion of a test to review all final
to provide immediate feedback after testing. Always allow the student to make
corrections and analyze his/her mistakes.
Homework is designed to be a
means of reinforcing skills introduced in school. It can be a difficult part of the day
for a child with organizational and planning problems, as well as for their
parents. In order to achieve the
full benefit of reinforcement that homework should provide, parents and teachers
need to provide supports and the proper environment for their students.
most important rule with homework should be that it is the studentís not the
parentís assignment. If the
parent is involved past the point of providing space, time, materials, and
additional clarification, then a meeting between student/parent/teacher may be
homework notebook/assignment book is a useful tool when checked by a teacher
or an aid at the end of the school day.
This can be used to determine if the child has the correct assignment,
appropriate materials, and an understanding of the expectation. Sometimes it may be helpful for the
teacher to include an estimated amount of time necessary to complete the home
students may be offered the opportunity to start the homework in school and
show it to the teacher, this can ensure greater home success.
one specific space in the home where assignments are done, supplies are kept
and materials are retrieved each day will help maintain routine and order.
and helping a child maintain a clutter-free environment will assist in
removing distraction and aid in further focus.
the tools necessary to complete the tasks: calculators, computers, spell-checks,
your child and provide snack and activity breaks as needed.
the child to review the assignment when it is completed; check calculations
and reread written products.
should see that work is complete, provide clarifications as needed and be
conscious of the time allotments.
Parents should also have a clear knowledge of what the school policy on
Elementary school children with
Executive Function Disorder can display a variety of different weaknesses in one
or more of the components of executive function. The ability to organize and plan is a
key skill necessary to reach goals and adapt to changes in their environment and
life. The recommendations presented
here will hopefully provide guidelines for teachers and parents as they guide
their students to greater organization and learning success.