Inside: Learn the different subsets of executive functioning skills and how to accommodate them on an IEP or 504 plan.

While we have come a long way in recognizing and supporting skill deficits in kids, when it comes to learning disabilities, I find that when it comes to executive functioning, issues are too often thought of as “won’t” instead of “can’t.”

Executive Functioning Accommodations may include a calendar or planner.
An example of an executive functioning accommodation is a calendar or planner.

Executive functioning skills rule our daily lives. And when a child or adult lacks such skills, they are often perceived as lazy, unmotivated, scatterbrained, defiant, and worse.

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Sometimes a person can improve their executive functioning skills. Others develop supports and measures they put in place to help.

Executive Functioning Accommodations

One example of my personal executive functioning accommodations would be that I use Google Calendar for my workday. I have notifications and alerts turned on so that I don’t miss meetings and calls. Otherwise, I get immersed in a task or project and forget things.

It’s really embarrassing to miss a Zoom call with a client, only to tell them that I was actually sitting at my desk the whole time.

What are Executive Functioning accommodations?

Depending on the advice you read, there are anywhere from 5 to 12 sets of executive functioning skills. When a person lacks executive functioning skills, they are often referred to as having ‘executive function disorder.’

However, this is not an official diagnosis, nor is it in the DSM. It is a term for a person who lacks the skills; that’s it. A child’s success with any of the below skills or tasks will vary based on age.

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Many students fail homework assignments not because of effort but because they lack executive functioning skills.
Many students fail homework assignments not because of effort but because they lack executive functioning skills.

It’s also important to note that many of these skills and skill deficits overlap. If you tell your child “go to your room and get your backpack, it’s time for school” there are many reasons they may not do this.

It might be working memory, it might be multi-step directions or task initiation…or processing and focus.

I have separate posts for:

Examples of Executive Functions

Below I have listed the categories of executive functioning skills. After that, for each one, I have listed how this may look at the home and at school if your child lacks the skill.

Response Inhibition

Also called inhibitory control or impulse control. The capacity to think before you act – this ability to resist the urge to say or do something allows us the time to evaluate a situation and how our behavior might impact it.

  • Calling out in class without raising a hand
  • Impulsive decisions (bad decisions, often result in discipline) when it is said that “the child knows better!”
  • Responding inappropriately (hitting, spitting, cursing) when wronged
  • Peers take advantage of him/her, does (inappropriate) things asked of them by peers
  • Misuses social media, ‘mean tweets’ or lashes out at others on social media, without thinking it through
  • Makes the same mistakes over and over, inability to learn from mistakes due to lack of impulse control, even with serious repercussions
  • Is an immediate follower of peers’ poor behavior, goes along with them
  • Cannot control negative responses, has to be heard, such as muttering bad words at a teacher after being reprimanded
  • If they think it, they say it; cannot control the things that “really shouldn’t be said out loud”

Emotional Regulation

The ability to manage emotions in order to achieve goals, complete tasks, or
control and direct behavior. Individuals with poor emotional control may have trouble adapting efficiently to different situations. They may have difficulty self-monitoring their behavior and emotions.

  • Bounce back appropriately from minor disappointments, such as a favorite TV show not being on or not being able to get your favorite ice cream flavor
  • Unnecessarily sad or mad at seemingly small disruptions in their day or routine or expectations
  • Seemingly over-exuberant at mundane things–such as treating a trip to McDonald’s with the same enthusiasm as a trip to Disney.
  • Get overly emotional and fixate on things
  • Can make objective decisions in emotional situations, or knows to step back from the situation
  • Cannot take constructive criticism, lashes out when corrected
Making a choice is an executive functioning skills.
Making a choice is an executive functioning skills.

Planning and Prioritization

The ability to plan a project in your mind and on paper. People with weak planning and prioritizing skills may not know how to start planning a project. They may be easily overwhelmed trying to break tasks into smaller, more manageable parts, and they may have trouble seeing the big picture.

  • poor productivity
  • cannot plan for the long term
  • cannot pick out which tasks should be done first
  • everything is important or nothing is important (because they are unable to discern)

Task Initiation

The ability to start a task in a timely manner.

  • Procrastination is the biggest signal you will see! The child has not started the task because it’s overwhelming to them.
  • Appears that they are ignoring parents’ or teachers’ commands when they likely do not know how to get started.
  • Have trouble starting and/or completing tasks
  • struggles to make choices

Flexible Thinking

The ability to revise plans in the face of obstacles, setbacks, new information, or mistakes. It relates to adaptability to changing conditions. Those with trouble being flexible may be rule-bound and rigid in their thinking. They may not be willing to negotiate with other people.

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They tend to be poor problem solvers and will repeatedly try the same solution that isn’t working. A person with reduced flexibility may have a hard time switching plans once they have been set.

  • Responds poorly to changes in schedule, routine
  • Rules follower, black and white thinking, does not see the gray areas in life
  • Panics when rules or routines change
  • Cannot understand different points of view
  • cannot adapt plans based on new information

Time Management

The ability to estimate how much time they have, how to allocate it, and how to
stay within time limits and deadlines. Understands a sense of urgency when it is warranted. The lack of time management skills is often referred to as time blindness. Read: What is Time Blindness?

  • Always late or super early
  • cannot manage morning tasks to be ready for school
  • cannot plan out a long-term school project or assignment, and how to complete it
  • no sense of urgency at getting to things on time
  • has little sense of time, what is one hour or three hours
  • could not pack a suitcase for a week’s vacation on their own
  • could not cook bacon, eggs, and toast all at the same time, ready to eat (reasonably so, of course)

Working Memory

The ability to hold information in memory while performing complex tasks. Working memory involves storing information, remembering lists of items and instructions, and solving problems quickly. It incorporates the ability to draw on past learning or experience to apply to the situation at hand or to project into the future.

  • cannot remember things
  • loses items frequently
  • does not bring information taught to them previously to new school years or chapters of their lives, or even to the next lesson; cannot build on knowledge–it seems to exist in silos
  • cannot follow multi-step directions
  • does not complete homework or if completed does not bring it to school or hand it in
  • forgets things like lunch money, permission slips, and other essentials that are to be shared between home and school
  • cannot remember rules and instructions that teachers may have told them at beginning of the school year
  • cannot do locks on lockers, cannot remember combinations and how to manipulate
  • cannot tell others their address or parents’ phone number in emergency
  • poor storyteller–cannot recall, details are disjointed and not in sequence


The ability to keep their belongings organized. Can see and develop a logical system for keeping their belongings organized, such as clothes in the closet, socks in the drawer, and so on.

  • frequently cannot find things
  • loses personal belongings often
  • is unable to manage new belongings, such as presents at Christmas time, and find a spot for them in their room
  • cannot put laundry away without explicit instructions
  • doesn’t recognize nor follow organizational systems set up by others, at home or at school
  • school backpack and binders are in disarray
Messy locker or backpack? Might be an executive functioning deficit.
Messy locker or backpack? Might be an executive functioning deficit.

Attention, Focus, and Persistence

The ability to focus on something, and persist in focusing on it until the desired goal is achieved. Various psychologists break up these tasks, while others group them together and may use different terms.

  • gives up easily, even on seemingly desired activities
  • inattention
  • inability to stick to a short-term goal–clean room and then get ice cream
  • inability to stick to a long-term goal–allowance and money-saving goal or another achievement
  • easily distracted
  • cannot refocus when interrupted
  • can only focus in certain situations, cannot ‘tune out’ unnecessary distractions (within reason)
  • cannot concentrate on a task

Self Monitoring

Also referred to as metacognition. Ability to self-reflect, evaluate your own performance and behavior, and improve or make changes.

  • Is overly or under-sensitive to criticism, lacks the ability to see objectivity
  • frequently makes the same mistakes
  • cannot communicate their own errors when probed, such as from a music teacher or sports coach who asks “what could you have done better?
  • is not able to answer the question “How did you do?” when asked about school activities
When your lack of executive functioning skills is treated as a character flaw, it wears on your psyche.
When your lack of executive functioning skills is treated as a character flaw, it wears on your psyche.

And, as I said, there is a ton of overlap in all of these. Here are some more tasks and skills linked to executive functioning. Most will fit in several of the categories above.

Classroom Executive Functioning Skills

  • Have trouble organizing their thoughts
  • Have trouble keeping track of their belongings
  • Have difficulty managing their time
  • Paying attention
  • Organizing, planning, and prioritizing
  • Starting tasks and staying focused on them to completion
  • Self-monitoring (keeping track of what you’re doing)
  • Do things based on your experience
  • Multitask
  • Planning projects
  • Estimating how much time a project will take to complete
  • Telling stories (verbally or in writing)
  • Memorizing
  • Starting activities or tasks
  • Shifting plans when situations change
  • Focusing only on one task
  • Shutting down when parents or peers don’t act as expected
  • Have difficulty prioritizing tasks
  • Forget what they just heard or read
  • Have trouble following directions or a sequence of steps
  • Have trouble switching focus from one task to another

Executive Functioning Accommodations

Now that you’ve determined that your child needs support in this area, or perhaps they’ve had an executive dysfunction test, here are some accommodations to consider.

  1. Visual schedules or graphic organizers for a step-by-step approach-i.e. use of a whiteboard with color markers
  2. Tools like iPads, smartwatches, visual timers, and laptops.
  3. Use and prepare visual schedules, and review them several times a day.
  4. Notification method (public or secret) to alert to changes and transitions
  5. Ask for large print, written directions with oral instructions whenever possible.
  6. When shifts in schedules and activities, plan for transitions.
  7. Create ADHD “to-do” lists/checklists with estimated times.
  8. Break long assignments into chunks and assign time frames for completing each chunk.
  9. Simple instructions, step by step, with visuals.
  10. Create story maps and other similar visuals for reading assignments.
  11. color code (paper color or ink color) as warranted
  12. Devices such as a hand-held for reminders on projects, assignments, and meetings such as iTouch, Blackberry, iPhone, etc.
  13. Large, easy-to-read, erasable color-coded calendar for projects, long-term assignments, meetings, events, activities, chores, etc.
  14. student agenda with time each day to review and self-evaluate
  15. Use a “date stamp” for materials received on dates and also due on dates
  16. Keep an organized workspace; allow class time at end of each segment for this to occur.
  17. Hang a whiteboard/magnetic to create a visual for a student with a simple list for weekly assignments/projects-use magnets to hang papers due
  18. Minimize clutter, including visual clutter in the classroom
  19. Ask for extra textbooks for home use-keep in work areas.
  20. Have separate work areas with complete sets of supplies for different activities/subjects.
  21. Schedule a weekly time to clean and organize the workspace.
  22. Tests can be overwhelming and stressful; options include retaking tests and extended time on tests
  23. Modify assignments and projects
  24. Chunk down assignments and projects into manageable-sized tasks
  25. use highlighters to emphasize important parts
  26. visual organizers to create timelines
  27. A “homework system” that the student finds most helpful-i.e. assignment book and checked at home and then at school by staff in the morning with all homework
  28. Use of computers or technology as much as possible for visual and ease of completing work
  29. Teachers provide as much information with visuals on the whiteboard and with copies of notes for students
  30. Reading accommodations-ebooks, kindle, iPad, and use of any visual and auditory form of books for comprehension
  31. Vocabulary-iPad,iTouch, iPhone, or other handhelds for apps that have vocabulary practice.

In addition to the accommodations listed above, there are many apps for executive functioning that may support your child.

Teachers and Staff
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You can also print some of the content from these articles.

Printable List of Executive Function Accommodations

Here you go, by popular demand. I have taken the IEP goals and accommodations from this post and created a pdf for you.

Executive Functioning Printable

I found this online from Jericho Public Schools and thought I’d share it here. Great resource!

How to Improve Executive Function Skills

Teachers and Staff
28 Free PDF Pages of IEP Data Collection Sheets 
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Free IEP Binder
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