By Kari Jo Wagner
As an Educational Therapist, I am often asked how I can support students with executive functioning skills, particularly students diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder.
Ages ago, when I was in school myself, no one talked about Executive Functioning skills. We were just expected to “get it.”
However, executive functioning skills are often very difficult for students to just “get” and having an attention deficit disorder impacts how a student can function in school, as well as, in everyday life. Everything, from knowing the date of a quiz, to managing multiple homework assignments, to understanding how to read a chapter in a textbook, all require use of executive functioning skills.
Students nowadays, as early as elementary school, are required to utilize executive functioning skills. As students get older and progress through school and life they receive less specific executive functioning support from teachers. For example, an elementary student is likely to have a whole-class time for copying homework assignments from the board into a planner. In contrast, this skill is rarely practiced in high school as students are just expected to do this.
For students with learning differences and attention deficit disorders, developing these executive functioning skills does not come naturally. Rather, they must be explicitly taught through direct instruction and nurtured under close supervision and repetition.
In my practice as an Educational Therapist, I work with students from elementary through high school, college students and even adults. We meet weekly to explicitly build their executive functioning skills.
Most students have a planner or online calendar. I teach them how to utilize it properly so that it is a useful daily tool. I also teach my students how to organize their school materials, binders, folders and backpacks. We set up helpful alarms and reminders. We practice taking large assignments and breaking them down into manageable steps. We practice looking at assignments written in their planner and discuss how to prioritize. I also teach strategies for task initiation and sustained attention for following through and completing the task
As an Educational Therapist, I see myself as an educational coach, helping my clients apply and practice executive functioning skills in their daily lives until they are able to be independently successful.