Children must have strong executive functioning skills to succeed academically. Executive Functioning (EF) is the ability to visualize completion of future goals by making a plan of action that accounts for both time and space. What does this mean exactly?

Let’s follow 15 year old Sarah into her social studies class to observe how her EF skills are at work:

It is Tuesday and Sarah’s teacher has just assigned the class a five paragraph essay due the following Tuesday. Each student is assigned an explorer of their choice, and the goal of the project is to highlight the explorer’s motivations, journey(s), and impact in history.

OK. Got it. Write a 5 paragraph essay on an explorer. Pretty straightforward. Right? Not for Sarah who struggles with ADHD and EF skills. Think about all the planning that goes into an assignment like this:

First, Sarah needs to visualize the assignment at completion. And then working backwards in her mind, she needs to visualize the materials needed (computer, paper, etc.) and the step-by-step step process for completing the project:

Step One: Search for information about my explorer on the web or in the library. Estimate how long this will take.

Step Two: Read articles/books about my explorer. Estimate how long this will take.

Step Three: Take notes while I read. Estimate how long this will take.

Step Four: Think about the teacher’s prompts as I read and take notes.

Step Five: Begin writing one of the paragraphs. Estimate time.

You get the idea. Lots of tasks. Lots of time. And this would be challenge enough, but Sarah is also juggling obligations elsewhere in her life: her other 5 classes at school, piano lessons, soccer practices, family dinners, and social commitments. And to top it all off, Sarah must leave extra time in case something comes up that she doesn’t anticipate or she is confused by something in the assignment in needs extra help.

Successful learners are constantly talking to themselves inside their heads and adjusting their thinking as incoming information changes. They ask themselves questions like:

“What is my teacher’s goal in having me do this task?”

“Which concepts am I focusing on in my reading?”

“What are all the things I need to do to successfully complete this task?”

“What resources will I need to complete the task?”

“Last time I took a quiz like this, I didn’t do so well because I waited until the last minute. How can I change that this time?”

“I’ve got to remember by poster board this time. Last time, I forgot until 10:00 p.m. at night, and Mom refused to drive me to pick one up.”

Then, we have Sarah’s parents. They want to help her. But they have their own challenges. Dad frequently travels for work and realistically cannot keep up with the details of Sarah’s assignments. And Mom is highly organized and motivated to help Sarah, but Sarah is a teenager. She wants to be successful independently and resents Mom’s pleas to help, and, at the same time, she hasn’t developed the skills required to make this happen.

How do they get past this impasse?

We are hoping to help Sarah and her folks get unstuck from this frustrating set of circumstances. Beginning in April, clinicians Dr. Constantina Kass and Danielle Causley will be starting a group for Parents and their Teens, the goal of which is to Build Skills and Motivation. The parents and teens will meet separately to reinforce independent learning. Based on the work of Dr. Margaret Sibley’s of Florida International University, this integrated program will encourage collaboration between parents and teens with the following goals in mind:

  1. increasing intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
  2. promote and reinforce organizational skills
  3. develop solid communication skills
  4. increase independence
  5. decrease family conflict

Read more about this new group on here on our website.

And for more information on how ADHD and executive functioning deficits may be impacting your teen, check out this article from CHADD.