Middle School Students with ADHD: Support Executive Functioning

Peace at Home February 22, 2024 | Michelle Sebak

Notes from a Mom and School Counselor Who has Been There

Middle schoolers with ADHD need strategies that support executing functioning (EF) skills. Children with ADHD have EF challenges — often referred to as executive dysfunction. This makes it difficult for those with ADHD to organize, plan and reach goals. Often, these kids have great ideas and intentions, but can’t follow through due to their executive dysfunction. As the mom of a child with these challenges and a school counselor who works with students who have this issue, I really get it. And let me add that I have to manage my own ADHD symptoms, so I’d love to share with you some of what I have learned from these many experiences.

Executive functioning difficulties become more apparent during the middle school years as kids are given more responsibilities and expectations. The good news is that executive functions can be strengthened when appropriate support or scaffolding is put into place. With the right support and with practice, our kids can improve their EF skills.

Here are some strategies that help improve EF:

  • Visual aids – Post calendars and checklists somewhere your will see each day (like on the refrigerator). You can use old fashioned white boards, and now you can get digital touch screen calendars and smart displays as well. 
  • Technology — Middle School kids love their phones. Teach them to use it as a tool to support EF. As a school counselor, I encourage my students to use the calendar on their phones to remind him of EVERYTHING. All school assignments are put into the calendar with alarms/notifications including reminders to turn in assignments. For example, if a student has a math assignment due on Tuesday and math class at 9:30, we add it to the calendar for that date and time with notifications set to remind the student as they arrive to class. 
  • Routines – Work together with your child to create routines that work. After lots of practice following routines, these will become second nature and your child will be less likely to forget or become disorganized. For example, I invite students who often forget to bring their Chromebooks to school to establish a specific morning routine that includes a step in putting their Chromebook into their backpack. I suggest that students create a visual of their routine and get in the habit of checking off each task before leaving the house. 
  • Chunking directions – With regard to multi-step directions, starting small and build from there really helps. Consider giving your child only two steps. Work on mastering this first. Then increase to three-step directions and so on. This exercise strengthens working memory. 
  • Mindfulness — Making mindfulness practices part of your family life can have a tremendous impact on your child as well as everyone in the family. Caregivers who practice mindfulness have an easier time co-regulating with their child, and a child whose caregiver can co-regulate is a child who learns to self-regulate. Practicing mindfulness together can strengthen family connections as well.

There are many more EF strategies, depending on your child’s unique EF challenges and how they show up in your child’s life. The key takeaway is supporting an ADHD middle schooler involves implementing strategies that will support and strengthen EF skills. 

Middle School can be socially challenging for all kids, but especially for adolescents with ADHD. Social skills groups can be great for helping our kids practice social skills in a safe environment. 

Finally, something that I have learned as a parent of an adolescent with ADHD, it’s important for both my child AND for me to take care of ourselves with a healthy diet, physical activity and good sleep habits. I can see a big difference in my child’s behavior as well as my reactions to that  behavior when we are taking care of ourselves compared to when we are not. 

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