No Sticker Charts Please – Try Understanding Executive Function Instead

ADHD, ASD, BP, FASD, RAD, PDD, ODD, SPD. With so many alphabet soup labels, what do they have in common?


Each is a brain disorder – affecting the Frontal Lobe which regulates executive functioning. Think “CEO of the brain” that plans and carries out a task to completion. The impairment may be a little or a lot.

Although executive functioning remains a relatively new buzz word in mental health and education, it’s an incredibly important concept for parents and professionals to understand.

No two individuals have the same symptoms – my sons included.

Executive DYS-function brings a range of issues – with varying levels of intensity. To ease understanding, the following five categories offer a range of questions to pinpoint the challenges. Psycho-educational testing can help also. Psychotropic medication may reduce symptoms. Sticker charts probably will do just the opposite, as will removing recess.

In turn, your newfound insight into executive functioning can assist in designing the most appropriate interventions – which can be included in an IEP (Individual Education Program) or other working documents supporting the Americans with Disabilities Act.


Does the individual start a task independently or just sit there – overwhelmed until shutting down?

Mrs Shepherd2

What type of assistance is needed to begin? How many words can be digested at one time? Does the use of repetitive exercises help?  What about visual or auditory cues? What about using a model?

Do the steps need to be restated – only after completing the prior one? In other words, what learning process promotes independence and mastery? That must remain the eventual goal.


Does the individual stay on task from beginning to end? How long does concentration last?

Who – or what – creates distractions? Can they be reduced or removed? What about sensory overload, especially noise? How about using headphones? Is the work space or classroom too busy?

How else can the environment be adapted to retain focus? Some benefit from having little to nothing in their desk. Others accomplish more when not confined to a chair – particularly if prone to rocking or tipping. A handful of small things can add up to big improvement.


What supplies are essential to complete the task? Can the individual readily access these items? Or even find them?

Are they used correctly? Which ones can be disregarded to reduce confusion? Take a look inside the desk or the bottom of a book bag. Both can say a lot about the ability to organize. Are expectations realistic?

Some can handle one folder but not five. Can less actually do more?


Practing sight words in first grade

Does the individual get lost in the middle of a task? Forget the outcome? What about remembering multiple steps? Would following an example help? 

How about applying knowledge from one area to another? Is that where the stuck moment appears? For tasks involving both thinking and writing, should someone serve as a scribe?

Many cannot listen and take notes at the same time. They fall behind and miss important words. Would an outline from the teacher be a game changer?



Is the individual able to easily move from one task to another? Does he refuse? Does she insist on finishing?

Should the task be broken into smaller chunks – with defined starting and stopping points – to create a feeling of accomplishment? Is the routine consistent to create predictability?

Would multiple reminders about quitting time make a difference? Or do they increase frustration?


NOW it’s your turn – whether a parent, teacher or workplace supervisor – to address executive dysfunction.

Make a list of SPECIFIC accommodations that could help the individual. Try them for effectiveness. Evaluate and then revise. And since using the same tools at home and school (or work) makes perfect sense, maintain two-way communication.


No doubt, the right accommodations can make a world of difference.  



They lessen frustration.

They lead to success.

They build self-confidence. 

What child – or adult – wouldn’t like that!  DCP


Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE

To follow Craig’s progress in writing a book about raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love

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