Here’s what you need to know about middle school. This information is especially important to read if your child has ADHD and didn’t have difficulties in elementary school. If you’ve already read my e-book, you know that the primary feature of ADHD is a deficit of regulation. Difficulty regulating means the brain has difficulty organizing itself to attain future goals. The transition to middle school represents a major shift in the demand for self-regulation. Because of this, for students with ADHD many problems begin in middle school that didn’t occur in elementary school.
The ability to sustain attention, hold and work with information in mind, filter distractions, and switch gears is known as executive functioning. These cognitive abilities allow us to organize our behavior over time and override immediate demands in favor of longer-term goals. All students (and parents) need these skills to regulate behavior. Everyone has areas of executive function that are stronger than others, but for a child with ADHD there is a delay in the development of these skills which, if not recognized, can negatively impact academic success in middle school.
Executive Function Skills are Important for Academic Success
Students with executive function deficits have trouble getting started on tasks, get distracted easily, lose papers or assignments, forget to bring home the materials to complete homework or forget to hand homework in. They may rush through work or procrastinate, they make careless mistakes that they fail to catch. They don’t know where to begin on long-term assignments and they put large assignments off until the last minute. Executive function deficits are especially confusing when contrasted with high intellectual ability often resulting in students incorrectly being viewed as lazy by teachers.
For a child with ADHD:
Executive Age = Chronological Age – 3 years
Unfortunately, some educators are still operating on the outdated belief that ADHD is merely a behavioral problem. Even the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) doesn’t address the full breadth and complexity of the challenges that are caused by underlying cognitive difficulties and executive function impairments which are at the core of ADHD. This is why it's important for parents to learn as much as they can about what executive function skills are and how to support their development at home. The solution is not to nag your child to try harder or to remember what they are supposed to be doing. It is instead to work with them to create an actionable plan to solve the problem. Often, simple strategies such as creating a routine, making lists and using timers are very effective and the resulting sense of accomplishment your middle schooler will experience is priceless.
The neurological differences in a brain with ADHD cause a delay in the development of executive function skills.
Executive functioning is completely independent of intellect.
Weak executive function is not a character defect, it is neurologically based.
Click on the links below to learn more about the ADHD executive function connection: