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How Parents Can Help Kids with Executive Function Disorder

It may take the patience of Gandhi, but it can be done.

Does everyone have their boxing gloves on? If not, go get them because, as I promised last week, you are going to learn skills to punch Executive Function Disorder (EFD) in the face. Just to review, a student with EFD has trouble:

  • planning out long-term projects and papers
  • initiating tasks such as getting started on essays, projects, and studying for exams
  • prioritizing assignments
  • organizing materials in backpack and work space
  • being punctual
  • meeting due dates for assignments
  • memorizing and retrieving information for tests
  • retaining information and then using the information to perform a task such as remembering the steps for a formula while working on an algebra problem.
  • writing a sequential, organized essay or story with rich details

A kid with EFD is easy to spot. His desk is crammed with papers, dissected pens and old, sticky fruit rollups. He is frantically pawing through all his folders and looking in the bottom of his backpack for homework he swears he did the night before. He hasn’t noticed everyone else has gotten out their textbooks and are busy annotating chapter three. He will inevitably start his poster on the American Revolution the night before it's due, leave the assignment sheet at school, and make his mother go to Walmart at 10 p.m. to get the poster board and stick-on letters he absolutely needs.  

How do we take this mess and make a good student out of him? Well, it’s a process that may take the patience of Gandhi and a good sense of humor, but it can be done. It is imperative that parents and teachers work together to teach and reinforce effective strategies. These strategies should be introduced in the classroom and practiced at home. Here are some ideas you can try at home to help your child:

  • Teach your child to set an alarm — on his phone, if available — to help him transition to new activities and remind him that it's time to do something such as go to hockey practice, walk the dog or leave for the bus stop.
  • All homework should be done in a place where parents can see if the student is doing his work and not trolling through Facebook.
  • Teach him to have his backpack packed and his clothes laid out for the next day before he goes to bed.
  • Have a daily set homework time and stick to it whenever possible.
  • Check his planner each evening to make sure homework is done. If he did not write in his planner, have him check the online teacher blogs.
  • Provide necessary school supplies for organization and keep extras on hand. Kids with EFD lose things so he may go through a box of pencils a week.
  • Keep a supply of poster boards, markers, glitter, letters, and whatever else might be needed for projects.
  • Encourage to-do lists.
  • Clean out his backpack with him once every two weeks. Throw away anything that is no longer needed, and have him put everything else in the appropriate folders and binders.
  • Keep a monthly calendar in plain view so he has a visual of how much time is left before an assignment is due.
  • Be available to quiz him before tests, even if Downton Abbey is on.
  • If your school district has an online gradebook, such as Powerschool, check it at the end of the week to make sure he is actually turning in his assignments and studying. If not, or if his teacher(s) is not great at keeping it updated, it may be beneficial to send an email at the end of each week asking for a quick update. You can use the information you receive to provide a weekend reward.

The idea is for these strategies to become second nature and for your child to perform them independently. It will take time, and you may want to beat your head against the wall from time to time, but keep at it. Remember, slow and steady wins the race.

Sue Schaefer, M.ED., M.A.T., founder of Academic Coaching Associates, is an Academic Coach, Student Advocate, and certified teacher. You may visit her website atwww.academiccoachingct.com, email her at susan.schaefer@academiccoachingct.com and follow her on Twitter @sueschaefer1.

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