Supporting Executive Function Disorder in Children with Autism

Supporting Executive Function Disorder in Children with Autism

by Rebecca Moyes

Many children with autism have deficits in executive functions. This can be likened to an employee who works for a company where the supervisor is unorganized and inefficient. Nothing seems to go right, things get misplaced, and general chaos seems to be the operational rule. It’s a lot like that for children with autism spectrum disorders. The executive in charge of their brain is not effective, and because of this, planning processes suffer.

It’s important for educators to be aware that this is a symptom of the disability. These students should not be consequenced because their executive functions are not working efficiently. Instead, teachers can and should put proactive teaching strategies in place to make it more likely that their students can be successful with organizational processes. Here are some ideas:

  1. For a student that has difficulty keeping a tidy desk, create a laminated desk map of how you want the inside of his desk to look and affix it to the top of his desk. In this way, he can compare the map with the way the inside of his desk looks and be cued to make his desk look like the map. Perhaps the map can show how his morning books should be stacked on the inside left side, and how his afternoon books should be stacked on the inside right side. The map can also detail visually the exact order of how the books should be stacked on each side.
  2. Teachers can purchase organizational crates and containers to fit on the shelves of a student’s locker and organize them with labels. This way, the locker will have more places for things to fit neatly and be readily accessible to the student.
  3. Each student in the classroom can be assigned a homework buddy.  The responsibility of the buddy is to help their partner write down the homework assignments and pack the correct books in their book bag.
  4. Or, a student who has terrific organizational skills can be provided with NCR paper to copy homework assignments down or take class notes. Then, he/she can tear off a copy of the NCR paper and provide it to the student who needs support. The supported student should still be encouraged to record assignments and notes, but the NCR paper provided by his peer will help him check his accuracy.
  5. In middle and high school years, it often becomes difficult to keep track of papers for multi subjects. The student can be provided with a colored portfolio with two pockets that matches the color of the text book’s cover, or a purchased text book cover for each subject. For instance, history could be ‘red’. The two pockets of the portfolio can be labeled “To Keep” for papers that need to be referred to later and “Homework” for papers that need to be completed and returned. The teacher can make sure that she writes an “H” at the top of the paper or a “K” so that the student knows where to file each paper in the portfolio. Any other papers can be thrown away.

Little procedures like the above, when explicitly taught, can help the student with executive function disorder to be more organized. This will, in turn, result in less stress for the student and less stress for the teacher!

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