Executive function challenges and learning: 6 ways to help your child after high school

By Amanda Morin

At a glance

  • Executive function challenges don’t go away after high school.

  • It’s important for your child to have strategies for managing appointments, bills, and other new responsibilities.

  • There are ways you can help your child refine skills to prepare for this new phase of life.

Executive function challenges don’t go away after high school. They continue to have an impact on kids, whether they’re in college or trade school, on the job, or navigating everyday situations. Your support can help your young-adult child build skills during this new phase of life.

Learning challenge #1: Difficulty making decisions

Your child doesn’t know what to do after high school — go straight to college or trade school, or get a full-time job.

The role of : Trouble with executive function can affect the ability to self-monitor and figure out strengths, weaknesses, and even passions.

How to help: Encourage your child to make an appointment with the student advisor in high school or the school’s guidance counselor. Together they can explore options and gather information about specific programs that match your child’s strengths.

Learning challenge #2: Managing tasks

Your child doesn’t know the steps to take to meet goals for after high school.

The role of executive function challenges: Executive function issues can make it hard to break big tasks into smaller, more manageable steps.

How to help: If your child is still in high school and has an , the law requires that the IEP outline transition goals for after high school. IEPs should begin including transition goals at the age of 14. The IEP should provide specific information about what community services are needed and available to help your child meet these goals. Learn more about how IEPs can help teens prepare for life after high school.

Learning challenge #3: Staying on top of things

Your child needs help finding work, educational opportunities, or life skills assistance.

The role of executive function challenges: Your child’s trouble with executive function can affect everyday activities like keeping appointments and paying bills.

How to help: Check out the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT). This government-sponsored center provides families with information and resources to help make a plan for life after high school. You may also want to learn how vocational rehab services can help your child with the transition from high school to work.

Learning challenge #4: Trouble planning

Your child has decided what to do after high school, but still needs to fill out applications or apply for jobs.

The role of executive function challenges: Trouble with executive function can make it hard to know how to create a plan and get started on something.

How to help: Acknowledge that your child isn’t lazy — just stuck. Help break down the job hunt or application process into manageable steps so your child knows how to start. Work together to create a short list of the basic things needed for job applications.

Learning challenge #5: Adapting to new situations

Your child is getting into trouble at work because it’s taking longer than expected to get into the routine.

The role of executive function challenges: Trouble with executive function can make it hard to juggle information. What may seem to others to be a simple task can be difficult.

How to help: Encourage your child to speak to the human resources department at work about learning challenges. Doing this could open up more resources to your child and also protect against job discrimination. (The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from firing employees because of a disability.)

You can also look into getting a job coach who can shadow your child at work and provide real-time feedback to help turn things around. Look for free or low-cost resources at your state’s vocational rehabilitation department.

Learning challenge #6: Staying organized

Your child is going to college or trade school and is struggling to make it to class on time and with the right materials.

The role of executive function challenges: Trouble with executive function can affect a person's ability to organize and plan for enough time to accomplish things.

How to help: Help your child come up with a daily checklist for what needs to be done to get out the door on time — as well as a checklist of materials needed for each class. Do a couple of practice runs to get a good sense of how much time is needed. Help your child use sticky notes and cell phone alarms as reminders. Writing important schedule information on a whiteboard in a high-traffic area of the house can also help.

After high school, there are fewer supports in place to help your child navigate executive function challenges. Your guidance is still a valuable asset, though. You can coach your child to seek out support to recognize and use strengths.

Key takeaways

  • Calendars, checklists, and other reminders can help your child become more self-sufficient.

  • School counselors and HR reps can offer your child additional guidance for building on strengths.

  • You can still play an important role helping your young-adult child figure out strategies for success.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days. 

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Jenn Osen-Foss, MAT is an instructional coach, supporting teachers in using differentiated instruction, interventions, and co-planning.