Executive Functioning Deficits and ADHD: Products that may help in the classroom

My fourth grade son, Luke, has pretty severe ADHD. Not only is he hyperactive and inattentive, but he struggles immensely with Executive Functioning deficits. This combination (coupled with his dysgraphia and sensory integration disorder) is a complete disaster at school.

“Executive function is a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action. People use it to perform activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space,” writes the National Center for Learning Disabilities’ Editorial Staff on their {very helpful} website, LD.org.

Luke has been struggling in school since Day 1 of kindergarten. He was diagnosed with ADHD in the late fall of first grade. As time passes and academic expectations grow, his list of struggles also grows. The Executive Functioning deficits have been apparent all along, but not to the disabling degree we realize today.
Fourth graders are required to work from verbal instructions, organize and maintain their belongings, plan for long-term projects, write down assignments and keep up with them, and take notes, among other tasks that build accountability and autonomy and prepare them for the expectations of higher grades. My son cannot perform even one of these tasks on his own. That is quite a conundrum at school.
We thought Luke’s new school, a private school with small classes and an emphasis on differentiated instruction, would be a better environment for him. We put ourselves through the wringer to make it possible for him to attend this school. And, just two weeks in, I was told that he’s struggling — and the teachers are struggling with him because they don’t have any experience with learning disabilities. We met for conference the following week.
Before that conference, I emailed the teacher and assistant teacher information on Executive Functioning and Dysgraphia so they could better understand Luke and embrace the fact that he’s not being defiant when he doesn’t do his work. I talked with Luke about his struggles beforehand as well. He couldn’t keep track of all his belongings (they don’t have desks but use back-jacks and then have cubbies in a classroom closet), he couldn’t remember what he was supposed to do to start assignments, and he was having trouble accessing the right materials at the right times of the day.
Daddy and I spent an entire afternoon at the office supply stores looking for ideas that would help him and a new way maintaining his materials. It was frustrating and exhausting but we felt like we came up with some good solutions and a solid plan.
I spent the entire next afternoon going through the old contents of Luke’s school cubbie and putting it all together in his new “classroom kit.” Here’s what I did:

There were too many different spots in the classroom for supplies for Luke to manage it. When they sat in their back-jacks, they had to go into the closet and access what they needed out of their cubbies and bring it to their chair (and then put it away afterwords or swap it out for something else). It wasn’t working for Luke, he was loosing his belongings and finding that he didn’t have the right materials in the middle of a class lesson and disrupting the entire class.

We bought him a clear half-size file box. ALL of his materials except his lunchbox and backpack are stored in this box and his teachers let him keep it out with him the entire day. (They haven’t been enforcing his rule to put everything back in it when he’s done though.)

Luke has four journals for class: Spanish, Math, Daily, and Field Journals. The teacher asked for a different composition book for each. Luke was ending up on their walking trip to the botanical gardens with his daily journal instead of his field journal or without a pencil, etc. He wasn’t able to quickly differentiate between the four composition books to get appropriately prepared for the next activity. I knew I needed to label the different journals very clearly and visually but I wasn’t sure how else to help with that.

Fortunately, we found these great new binders from Avery! They are about the size of a composition book and they have a pouch for supplies affixed inside the cover! Genius really!

And so, I used one of these to replace each composition book.
Luke and I created visual labels for each and slid them into the front cover and spine. It is important to have his input on images that appeal to him and remind him of the use for that journal. Also, I had to get his permission before putting his picture on one for all his classmates to see. (Somehow I neglected to take a picture of the cover of the math journal.)

I then loaded them up so that all he needed to do was grab the right binder to be prepared for that activity. Each pouch was filled with pencils, colored pencils and extra erasers. Yes, it’s an extra expense to have supplies in all four binders, plus another location I’ll share in a minute, but that is how we can best help a child with ADHD be prepared — by making the process simple.

I also put some velcro squares on the back of each binder where his hands might hold onto it for sensory input.
I also loaded each with the special {read “expensive”} little loose-leaf paper that fits these little binders. As well, Luke was struggling with writing in his journals in sequential order — his teacher couldn’t understand why he couldn’t open his notebook to the next blank page, front to back, and begin the next entry there,and Luke couldn’t understand how to do so. So I got these removable tabs (again, thank you Avery) and put them in his daily journal with “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.” If he can bring the journal home on Fridays, I will move each to the next five pages.
Now, we still had some odds and ends so we purchased a tray that hangs from the inside lip of a file box and filled it with more pencils and colored pencils and all his other loose supplies.
And I felt a couple checklists and a goals reminder was in order. So I created these cards and laminated them and put them on the outside of the box with double-sided tape. He has a going home checklist, a packing for the field checklist, and his two goals.
Homework and getting papers home was a huge problem as well. He was given the homework verbally and expected to record it and get everything home on his own. I spoke to the teachers about writing things down for him since his Dysgraphia {among other things} makes this task so hard. I also created a custom homework log for this interoffice mail envelope so the teachers can be sure homework is properly recorded and sign off each day. Then I sign off that I received folder and contents and that I ensured his homework was returned to the folder, sealed, and returned to his backpack. This is a genius idea I found online.

And here is the complete kit:

Now, you may be saying to yourself that this is genius. I thought so too. Did you catch that past tense? Yep, it’s not working. I think part of the problem is that he’s not fully supported in the classroom (specific, often reminders of what goes where and to put things away). And part of the problem is that binders aren’t the easiest thing to write in — the special little loose-leaf paper is thinner than most loose-leaf paper and is tearing inadvertently when he’s writing. Not sure where we’re going from here… but this was definitely a valiant effort.

What systems have you created for your child with ADHD to help them succeed in school {and help their teachers retain some semblance of sanity}? Please share in the comments. {P L E A S E !!!}

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Take a look at these warning signs of Executive Functioning delays from LD.org. Does your child need support in this area too?

A student may have problems with executive function when he or she has trouble:

  • Planning projects
  • Comprehending how much time a project will take to complete
  • Telling stories (verbally or in writing), struggling to communicate details in an organized, sequential manner
  • Memorizing and retrieving information from memory
  • Initiating activities or tasks, or generating ideas independently
  • Retaining information while doing something with it, for example, remembering a phone number while dialing

COVER3D_400sq_bestsellAward-Winning Blogger. Freelance Writer. Author. Warrior Mom.
A self-described “veteran” parent of a son with ADHD, Penny Williams is the author of the Amazon best-seller about her parenthood in the trenches, Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD. She is also the creator of the award-winning website, {a mom’s view of ADHD}, a frequent contributor on parenting a child with ADHD for ADDitude Magazine and other parenting and special needs publications, and co-founder of the annual Happy Mama Conference & Retreat, a weekend away for moms of kids with neurobehavioral disorders. Look for her second book, What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting ADHD, in late 2014. Follow Penny at http://BoyWithoutInstructions.com.

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adhd and school, executive functioning, organization, parenting/FAMILY, Penny Williams ·

About the author

COVER3D_400sq_bestsellAward-Winning Blogger. Freelance Writer. Author. Warrior Mom. A self-described “veteran” parent of a son with ADHD, Penny Williams is the author of the Amazon best-seller about her parenthood in the trenches, Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD. She is also the creator of the award-winning website, {a mom's view of ADHD}, a frequent contributor on parenting a child with ADHD for ADDitude Magazine and other parenting and special needs publications, and co-founder of the annual Happy Mama Conference & Retreat, a weekend away for moms of kids with neurobehavioral disorders. Look for her second book, What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting ADHD, in late 2014. Follow Penny at http://BoyWithoutInstructions.com.

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The "ADHD Mommas" are not medical or mental health professionals, nor an ADHD coach. Any opinions shared here are just that, opinions. I, and the other "ADHD Mommas," are sharing our experiences with our own ADHD children. Please do not re-post or publish any content or photos without a link back to {a mom's view of ADHD}. Have the courtesy to give credit where credit is due. Copyright protected. All rights reserved.

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