Executive Functioning 101 + Our IEP Meeting

I felt exhausted after today's IEP meeting. I came home, tried not to cry, and then ate some ice cream.

Our IEP Meeting

Today's IEP meeting was basically a fresh start, because it's been 3 years so everything we had set up before she no longer qualifies for (technically). It lasted about 90 minutes. If you've ever been to an IEP meeting, you know 90 minutes feels like 9 hours. Let me start by saying that our teacher, support staff, and everyone involved are all absolutely amazing. The meeting was overwhelming and I almost started crying halfway through it, but it wasn't because of a lack of support or anything like that.

Because Sapphire has made improvements over the past few years since we first got an IEP for her, she is now on the lower end of average (instead of below average) in most areas. She no longer qualifies for an IEP based on her learning disability. We now have her qualified based on a health issue (she has PTC).

Executive Functioning 101

Executive Functioning 101

The same thing we kept coming back to in the IEP meeting was executive function. Sapphire doesn't deal well with transitions, or with schedule changes. She's impulsive and has a difficult time remembering things unless she's taught using some type of hand motions, rhyming, or song. Every issue that came up at the meeting, oh, executive function there you are again.

Based on what I've read, it seems many kids struggle with executive functioning, especially if they have ADHD. Children who have neurological conditions, mood disorders, or brain injuries can also struggle. Because Sapphire has Pseudotumor Cerebri, some of the issues she has are similar.

Some symptoms of executive functioning issues:

Difficult to get started on a task.

Difficulty figuring out how much time a task requires.

Easily distracted, has trouble paying attention.

Needs to be told the directions repeatedly.

Difficulty switching gears from one activity to the next.

Easiest to remember information by using cues, abbreviations, or acronyms.

As your child’s brain continues to develop, the symptoms of executive functioning issues may change. Early intervention can help you find ways to use your child’s strengths to support weaknesses starting when she’s young. But since the brain continues to develop into young adulthood, intervention can be helpful at any age.Understood.org

Many skills are affected by executive functioning, including: impulse control, emotional control, flexibility (dealing with transitions), and planning and prioritizing. Many of the problems Sapphire has at school and at home have to do with impulse control. She has a tough time when it comes to switching classes, because she has 5 minutes in between where she's unsupervised and everything is completely unstructured.

Her teacher suggested little cards, kind of like flash cards, to help her remember what she's supposed to be doing after the bell rings each time. This is just one way we will hopefully be able to help Sapphire function more typically at school. At home, we are going to add some post it notes to the mirror so in the morning she will see what to do first, second, and third.

While talking to friends, I learned that a lot of children with autism have executive functioning difficulties. Because of that, I've never considered it as something that Sapphire would have any problems with. It's not exclusive to kids with autism, so if you notice your kiddos having issues with some of the stuff mentioned in this post, don't discount it like I did just because they aren't on the autism spectrum.

Games to Help with Executive Function


Feelings Memory Game

Flip to Win Memory Game

Executive Functioning Resources

Article from Understood.org on Executive Functioning – This is an easy to read and easy to understand article. It's very in-depth and talks a lot about what executive functioning is, which issues can be caused, and even has some information on how to deal with it.

8 Key Executive Functions – Another article from Understood.org. This is a list of things your child may struggle with.

ILS Learning Corner has some amazing resources, and a full executive functioning category. I'm making some visual planning charts for both of the girls to use each morning (and after school).

Strategies to Help Impulse Control is just one of the many articles I found helpful from The OT Toolbox.

Tips for Executive Functioning

Make checklists. Use post-it notes with different colored writing for each step. Keep the steps simple.

Set limits. We limit the use of electronics for the kids, but Sapphire absolutely loves her Kindle. When we let her use it, we set clear limits ahead of time, give her a 5 minute warning before her time's up, and we stick with the limits – no exceptions.

Use a planner. While in our IEP meeting, it was suggested that we use an agenda – but not a full one. Meaning we tear a few pages out at a time, so Saff can get used to using a planner before she has to use it 100% of the time in 5th and 6th grade.

What's next?

I'm learning about executive functioning and how it affects kids – and parents! – and how to put systems in place to help us cope. During this learning process, I'm going to share what we learn, what works (and what doesn't), and resources we find along the way.

These books (The Sensory Child Gets Organized and The Superkids Activity Guide to Conquering Every Day) were recommended and based on the previews, it seems to be exactly what we need to be able to start putting systems into place for both Sapphire and Gracelynn to get more organized.

I would love it if you'd share resources and experiences with me in the comments as well!