Between classes, social life and extracurricular activities, your child’s brain is working overtime in high school. It’s also a time when executive functioning issues can create unique learning obstacles. Here are six common challenges and ways you can help.
Learning Challenge #1
Your child is getting low grades on tests that alternate between multiple-choice and short-answer questions.
The role of executive functioning issues: Kids with executive functioning issues can have trouble shifting gears from one way of doing things to another.
How to help: Speak with the teacher about accommodations that can help with executive functioning issues, such as letting your child take a version of the test that uses only one type of question.
Learning Challenge #2
Your child has decided to apply for college. Application deadlines are looming, though, and he still hasn’t filled any of them out.
The role of executive functioning issues: Kids with executive functioning issues can have trouble figuring out where to start or seeing how a big task can be broken down into smaller tasks.
How to help: Help your child break big or overwhelming tasks into more manageable steps—a technique teachers call “chunking.” For instance, take an essay question on a college application and have him write out individual steps—come up with thesis, create outline, write opening paragraph—on individual notecards that he can complete one at a time.
Learning Challenge #3
Your child designs a great science experiment but is having trouble writing up the report.
The role of executive functioning issues: Kids with executive functioning issues may have a hard time seeing and describing the details that make up the bigger picture.
How to help: Videotape the science experiment so your child can replay it while writing up the report. Encourage your child to use a graphic organizer, mind map, checklist or other system to help him organize his thoughts on paper.
Learning Challenge #4
Your child’s creative writing paper is confusing to read because it keeps switching tenses and point of view.
The role of executive functioning issues: Kids with executive functioning issues often don’t check their work or realize when they’re making mistakes.
How to help: Encourage your child to read his writing out loud to see if it makes sense. At first you may need to have him read his draft to you, so you can point out inconsistencies. Over time, he can start to pick up on these issues himself.
Learning Challenge #5
Your child is very bright and starts off the year in a number of advanced placement classes. He drops them after a month, though, because “it’s too much work.”
The role of executive functioning issues: Kids with executive functioning issues can easily become overwhelmed by what looks like a daunting amount of work.
How to help: Encourage your child to use course outlines to help plan and predict assignments. Show your child how to use a daily planner to map out his overall workload. The textbook’s website and other resources recommended by the teacher can also help your child get through the material.
Learning Challenge #6
Your child is having trouble keeping up with class discussions—and gets angry when it’s hard to get a word in edgewise.
The role of executive functioning issues: Kids with executive functioning issues may process language more slowly than their peers. They may also have a hard time finding the words to say and keeping emotions in check when they get frustrated.
How to help: Practice conversation skills with your child, including teaching him how to say things like “Can you give me a minute to think about that?” and “I have something to add, just give me a minute to gather my thoughts.”
Like other learning and attentions issues, difficulties with executive functioning don’t disappear over time. With help, high-schoolers can learn to leverage strengths and advocate for themselves—valuable skills they’ll carry into adulthood.