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Executive functioning issues

A Day in the Life of a Child With Executive Functioning Issues

By The Understood Team

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Some kids have a really tough time getting organized and starting tasks. Planning, focusing and using working memory can be big challenges too. Use this visual guide to see how executive functioning issues can affect a child’s daily life.

1.5kFound this helpful
A Day in the Life of a Child With Executive Functioning Issues

Meet Josh, a sixth grader who has executive functioning issues. Executive functions work together to help the brain organize and act on information. They include:

• Organizing, setting priorities and starting tasks
• Focusing, shifting or sustaining attention and thinking flexibly
• Regulating alertness and staying on task
• Managing frustration and keeping emotions in check
• Using working memory and recalling information
• Self-monitoring and controlling impulses

To understand how executive functioning issues can affect kids in school and outside of it too, take a look at a typical day in Josh’s life.

7am
Argh! Josh knows he’s forgetting something. Ah, that’s it—his cleats for today’s game. He runs back inside to get them…but ends up leaving his backpack at home as he races to catch the bus. He sprints past the checklist his mom made to help him remember what he needs for school. But it’s too late: The bus is about to pull away! He’s going to miss it again.
Executive Functions: Organizing, Using Working Memory

11am
Josh’s teacher asks, “Who has a good answer to the first question I gave you yesterday about last night’s reading assignment?” Josh squirms, hoping he won’t be called on. He didn’t write the questions in his daily planner and has no idea how to answer them.
Executive Functions: Organizing, Focusing

1pm
It’s the best part of the school day: lunch! But Josh hogs the conversation, talking way too loud and too much about his video games. He doesn’t notice how annoyed his friends are getting.
Executive Functions: Self-Monitoring, Controlling Impulses

3pm
In soccer Josh is so focused on getting the ball that he doesn’t keep in mind which direction he’s supposed to run once he gets it. He quickly heads for the nearest goal and kicks the ball—right into his own team’s net.
Executive Functions: Shifting Attention, Thinking Flexibly

6pm
Josh isn’t happy when his mom tells him to turn off the TV and set the dinner table. When he thinks he’s done with this task, his little sister tattles that he’s forgotten to give each person a cup. Frustrated with his sister and with missing his TV show, Josh loses his cool and screams at her.
Executive Functions: Managing Frustration, Keeping Emotions in Check

8pm
After lots of prodding from his mom, Josh sits down to do his homework. But he doesn’t know where to start. Instead of doing the book report or the math problems that are due tomorrow, he decides to surf the web to find a topic for his science report that’s due next week. Then he takes a break to play a video game.
Executive Functions: Setting Priorities, Starting Tasks

10pm
When Josh finally begins the book report, his mind keeps jumping from one thought to another. He can’t figure out what to write and only gets one sentence down on paper before he gives up for the night. He thinks he can do more on the way to school tomorrow—even though he’s never gotten anything done while riding the bus with his friends.
Executive Functions: Sustaining Attention, Staying on Task, Organizing

12am
It’s way past his bedtime. Josh is exhausted. He tries to go to sleep, but he can’t shut off his brain. He keeps worrying about disappointing the teacher with his book report and getting teased by his teammates for kicking the ball into the wrong goal.
Executive Functions: Regulating Alertness, Keeping Emotions in Check

About Executive Functions
• Many kids with learning and attention issues have trouble with executive functioning. It’s very common in kids with ADHD.
• Executive functions are the brain’s self-management system. Issues with executive functioning can make it hard to complete schoolwork and everyday tasks.
• But there are ways to help at home and in school. Classroom accommodations and informal supports can help kids like Josh get organized and stay on top of their assignments. Then they’ll feel less stressed and more prepared for day-to-day activities.

Ways to Help
• Ask teachers to check your child’s daily planner for assignments.
• Post schedules and directions and say them out loud.
• Give step-by-step instructions and have your child repeat them.
• Use checklists and color-coded school supplies.
• Break projects into smaller pieces with their own deadlines.
• Use graphic organizers or mind-mapping software.
• Talk with your child’s doctor about considering ADHD medication.
• Follow a daily schedule that builds in time for taking breaks.

*Adapted from an NCLD infographic (illustrations by Fil Vocasek) and the work of Thomas E. Brown, Ph.D.

About the Author

Understood Team Graphic

The Understood Team is composed of writers, editors and community moderators, many of whom have children with learning and attention issues.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Tom Brown

Thomas E. Brown, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

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