Free Apps for Occupational Therapy

These free apps for occupational therapy build handwriting, executive functioning, visual memory, fine motor skills, and more.

Normally at this time of year in therapy, it can be hard to keep the kids attention spans on track. Having a free app that builds skills can be one way to stay on track with addressing specific skills. Here, you will find free apps for occupational therapy that can be used as a supplemental activity or as a quick activity in between other occupational therapy activities. Add them to your line-up of occupational therapy teletherapy activities. Others may want to use these apps for therapy breaks or as a reward at the end of the session. Still others may find the occupational therapy apps perfect for home occupational therapy programs or ways to keep kids busy while parents are working from home. Whatever your need, these educational games and special education supports can be a powerful tool in distance learning and learning at home.

These free apps for occupational therapy build handwriting, executive functioning, visual memory, fine motor skills, and more.

Free Apps for Occupational Therapy

The free apps below are broken down into targeted skill area. I’m adding apps for handwriting and letter formation, visual motor skills, executive functioning skills, and other areas. Some of these apps are IOS apps and others are Android apps. The apps that are available for Android on Google Play may be accessed through a Google account on a desktop and then accessed through the Google play app or via a Google account on an Apple device. Here is more information on how to access Google Play apps on an Apple device.

I tried to locate only free apps in this resource. There are many great apps for occupational therapy out there, but I wanted to cover all the bases when it comes to OT interventions with free apps that can meet the needs for free!

Another great idea for using free technology in occupational therapy includes using these Alexa skills in occupational therapy.

Free Apps for Visual Motor Skills

All About Shapes- This free app is available on IOS and is a shape drawing app. Users can draw and identify shapes.

Vision Tap- This free IOS app is a great one for addressing visual processing and visual efficiency skills. Visual tracking, visual scanning, and oculo-motor skills are challenged with this one!


Broom, Broom- This free IOS app allows children to draw paths for the vehicles in the game to drive on, building eye-hand coordination, motor planning, visual memory, and precision of fine motor skills.

Visual Memory is a free app available on Google Play. The game is designed to develop visual memory and improve attention. Users can find the image that appears at each level.

Piko’s Blocks- this free IOS app really challenges the visual spatial skills for older kids.

Memory Game is another free app on Google Play. The game is just like the classic concentration game, helping users to build visual memory skills.

Learning with Wally is an Android app available on Google Play. The visual discrimination app challenges users to discriminate between differences, recognize, and attend to details in visual forms, including pictures, letters, words and sentences.

Sorting and Learning Game 4 Kids- This app is available on Google Play and challenges users to categorize and match themed objects while helping to build visual attention, visual memory, and focus with a concentration on visual perception.

Visual Attention Therapy Life is an app available on Google Play. The free app allows users to address and build visual scanning, visual memory, and visual attention. It also helps rehab professionals to assess for neglect and provide more efficient and effective therapy for attention deficits.


Sensory Baby Toddler Learning- This Google Play app is great for younger kids as they work on cause and effect and develop hand eye coordination skills.


Connecting Dots is Fun- This free IOS app allows users to work on visual perceptual skills such as visual discrimination, form constancy, figure-ground and visual processing skills of tracking and scanning. Users create dot-to-dot activities in the app.

Alphabet Puzzles For Toddlers- This Google Play app helps younger children work on letter identification and letter recognition. The letter learning app is a great app for preschoolers or toddlers. The visual perceptual app allows children to address form constancy, visual discrimination, figure ground, and other visual perceptual skills.

iMazing- In this free IOS app, users can complete maze activities while challenging visual perception and visual motor skills.
Skill Game- This free app is available on Android. The game allows users to draw lines to connect numbers while building eye-hand cordination, precision, motor planning, visual memory, and more.

On the Line- This IOS app is great for working on visual motor skills using a stylus.


Squiggles- This free app is a great one to work on pre-writing skills. Users can draw lines and figures and watch as they become animated.

Use these free handwriting apps to work on letter formation, number formation, letter recognition, and more.

Handwriting Free Apps

ITrace is a handwriting app that does have a price for the main version, however, there is a free version available with some activities. Users can trace letters, numbers, words, and shapes while working on visual motor skills and letter formation.


Writing Wizard- This app is available on Google Play and allows users to trace letters along a visual guide. There are various fonts available and size can be adjusted for different ages.

Writing Wizard-Cursive- This handwriting app is created by the makers of the regualar, print version of Writing Wizard. Users can practice letter formation in cursive.

Start Dot- This app addresses letter formation using visual, auditory, and movement cues. These prompts fade to address accuracy and independence.

Ollie’s Handwriting and Phonics- This free app allows users to trace and copy individual letters and words on the app’s chalkboard wall.

Write ABC – Learn Alphabets Games for Kids- This handwriting app is available on Google Play. The app helps younger children work on letter formation using visual cues for starting points and ending points.

Sand Draw- This free Google Play app provides a sandy beach for kids to practice writing letters, words, or phrases in. Use it to practice spelling words for a fun twist.

Snap Type- While this app has a paid version, the free version also allows users to create digital versions of worksheets. Students can take a picture of their worksheets, or import worksheets from anywhere on their device. They can then use their Android device keyboard to add text to these documents. When complete, students can print, email.

Fine Motor Free Apps

Dot to dot Game – Connect the dots ABC Kids Games- This free app is great for toddlers, preschoolers, or young children working on precision, dexterity, and fine motor work. the app addresses letter and number formation.

Tiny Roads- This free app allows children to connect objects while working on precision and finger isolation.

Montessori Fine Motor Skills Game School Numbers- This fine motor app helps users work on eye-hand coordination, precision, and finger isolation while working on numbers, letters, and shapes.

Use these free executive functioning apps in occupational therapy sessions to build skills like working memory, attention, and focus.

Free Apps for Executive Functioning Skills

CogniFit Brain Fitness- This Google Play app uses memory games, puzzles, reasoning games, educational games, and learning games to train memory, attention, concentration, executive functions, reasoning, planning, mental agility, coordination and many other essential mental skills.

Lumosity: Brain Training- This free executive functioning skills app uses games to exercise memory, attention, speed, flexibility and problem-solving.

Memory Games: Brain Training- This executive functioning skills app uses memory and logic games  to improve memory, attention and concentration. 

Alarmy- This free alarm app allows users to set alarms for attention building, and scheduling.

The Google Tasks app- This free app creates checklists and sublists and allows users to add details about the areas that users need need to focus on in order to accomplish tasks. The app helps users to stay on track with due dates and notifications.

The 30/30 app- This free app helps with executive functioning skills such as starting tasks, staying organized, and prioritization in tasks. This app is useful to address procrastination and motivation on bigger tasks or projects.

Forest- This app helps with procrastination, productivity, and motivation.

Study Bunny- This free productivity app helps students pay attention and focus on studying and larger school projects or tasks.

Habitica- This task completion app allows users to track habits, and add gamification to tasks to build motivation and help with productivity.

HabitNow- This free habit tracker app helps users to track habits and build habits to improve productivity and time management. This is a great app for scheduled activities or daily tasks such as chores or morning/evening routines.

Brain N-Back- This working memory app helps to train working memory.

Clockwork Brain Training- This memory training app helps with working memory and concentration through games and puzzles.

Use these free self-regulation apps to help kids identify emotions, and feelings and help with coping tools.

Self-regulation Free Apps


Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame- This self-regulation app uses a fun Sesame Street monster to help little ones calm down and solve everyday challenges. Available in English and Spanish, the coping tools app helps your child learn Sesame’s “Breathe, Think, Do” strategy for problem-solving.

Trigger Stop: Sensory and Emotional Check-In- This free self-regulation app is available on Google Play so they can identify and communicate sensations and emotions or feelings in the body so they can express them in a healthy way.

EmoPaint – Paint your emotions! is a free self-regulation app available for IOS in the Apple Store or Google Play. The paint app allows users to represent emotions or bodily sensations through art, by painting them interactively on the screen.

Moodflow: Self-care made easy!- keeps track of your emotions, moods, thoughts and general well-being with a self-rating system, emotional language, and a system that allows for identification of how coping strategies help with emotional regulation.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

When Executive Function Skills Impair Handwriting

Handwriting and executive functioning skills are connected in many ways. Here are tips and strategies to improve executive function skills and writing.

Handwriting is a complex task.  To write a sentence, a child needs to process information, recall important information, plan what he wants to write, initiate the writing task, perform the motor tasks to move the pencil to form letters, organize motor output on the page, manage paper/posture/pencil mechanics, realize errors, and be flexible enough to accept and correct mistakes.

All of these “parts” of handwriting might sound familiar to the parent, teacher, or therapist of a child with executive function defects.  Executive function is our ability to “get things done”.  It is a set of skills that allow us to organize information, plan, learn, multi-task, remember things, prioritize, pay attention, and act on information.

Handwriting and executive functioning skills are connected in many ways. Here are tips and strategies to improve executive function skills and writing.

Handwriting for a child with executive functioning problems can be quite challenging. Handwriting requires visual perception, sensory processing, cognitive components, motoric output, awareness of mistakes, and the ability to correct them just to complete written work.

Now, image asking a child with executive function difficulties to write a 5 sentence writing prompt.  After an 8 hour day of school.  In the environment that the child feels most comfortable to exhibit behaviors (home with his loved ones)…it can be a messy scenario leading to a homework breakdown.

Handwriting and executive functions

 


What is Executive Functioning?

One issue that may be causing a child to write well at school and produce completely illegible or totally sloppy written work at home is a deficit in executive functioning skills.

Kids who have trouble managing their executive functioning skills might have trouble with learning, organization, task completion, getting homework done, not losing their essential items, remembering to take their lunch box home each day, and so many other everyday tasks. Executive functioning is a set of mental skills that play a huge part in our daily tasks.

These essential mental tasks include:

This post contains affiliate links.
 

Executive Functioning Skills Checklist

 So, when it comes to difficulties in the areas listed above, there are certain ways that we see those struggles come to life. In the child with executive functioning disorder or challenges in any one area of executive functioning, it can be helpful to have an executive functioning skills checklist, or list of ways that EF impacts writing. Here are some of the ways that you may see executive function impact writing.
 
Executive functioning skills and handwriting with tips for helping kids at home and in the classroom

 

Handwriting and Executive Function Skills

When asked to complete written work, a lack of executive functions or a inability to utilize executive functioning skills may occur.  The child may show resistance to the writing topic, trouble initiating, and difficulties with written work output.  Here are signs of executive function problems in handwriting:
 
  • Difficulty generating ideas
  • Trouble articulating ideas
  • Problems putting their ideas onto paper
  • Difficulty forming the letters to produce written text
  • Simple or minimized written output despite verbally responding to writing prompts
  • Inappropriate pencil grasp
  • Trouble initiating writing prompt
  • Difficulty organizing work space
  • Crumbled paper
  • Tearing paper when writing or erasing
  • Poor letter formation
  • Difficulty with line and spatial awareness on the paper
  • Slow writing speed
  • Complaints of mechanics of writing (pencil needs sharpened, need better eraser, uncomfortable seat)
  • Slow writing speed
  • Written work does not answer the question or answers only part of the question despite verbally stating a full response.
  • Repeats self in written work (in an open ended writing prompt type of task)
Tips and tricks for helping kids with executive functioning problems with handwriting
 

How to help kids improve executive functioning skills to improve handwriting and homework

  • Break down writing tasks. Separate an assignment into smaller parts. 
  • Make a plan. Visual cues are key. Use a highlighter and numbers to create a “to-do” list.
  • Make short one step tasks and determine how long each should last.
  • Consistency. Complete written work and homework in a specific place.
  • Organized work space. Try these tips for organized homework.
  • Materials in place. Limit the options for pencils/erasers.
  • Use a timer to work on small steps at a time.
  • Provide guidelines for written work.
  • Mark off each task as it is completed.
  • Behavioral chart for homework completion.
  • Reward system with actionable rewards: Instead of a toy or sticker, a child can choose to earn earn time to stay up 15 minutes later on Friday, choose the family’s dessert for one day, or pick what to watch for family movie night.
  • Dictation: Child dictates what he wants to write and parent/teacher/aide/another student completes the writing portion.
  • Try typing vs. written work.
  • Visual checklist for mechanics: Capitalization, punctuation, complete sentences, grammar, spelling, line awareness, spacing, letter formation.
This post is part of our Easy Quick Fixes to Better Handwriting series. Be sure to check out all of the easy handwriting tips in this month’s series and stop back often to see them all.  

 

How to Improve Handwriting and Executive Function

One way to work on the handwriting issues that we commonly see, along with the executive functioning struggles is to combine these. Using checklists, mind maps, and visual cues can help the child with executive functioning difficulties to “see” the big picture of what they need to accomplish.

The Impulse Control Journal does just that. It is a printable journal that kids (and teens or adults) can use to figure out what’s going on with attention, organization, planning, prioritization, and other mental skills. It can help them with areas like habits so they are able to accomplish the everyday tasks like planning out a chore or an assignment.

The Impulse Control Journal breaks down executive functioning…but it does it in easy and fun ways and doesn’t make the process overly distracting or overwhelming. Just pull out or print off the pages you need and use them over and over again. The best thing I love about this journal is the fact that the user is totally involved in the process. It’s not just making plans for the child (or teen/individual), but they have a real say in their situation and the ways to work on certain areas.

They are truly involved in the process of working on executive functioning skills.

And, the journal offers a way to work on handwriting with short lists, check boxes, mind maps, and more. So, by addressing the executive functioning skills and handwriting together, the process provides a real opportunity for change.

Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

Books About Executive Functioning

books to teach executive functioning skills

Reading is a great life-long occupation! Did you know that there are books on executive functioning for all ages? Check out this list for your next read, while teaching kids about executive functioning skills…and maybe learning a thing or two yourself!

Books on Executive Functioning for All Ages

Books are an accessible and approachable learning opportunity for many skills, including executive functioning! From children’s books, to workbooks geared to teens, to evidence-filled books for adults, there is a plethora of option to meet your needs. 

Amazon affiliate links are included in this post.

books to teach executive functioning skills

Books on Executive Functioning for Ages 4-10

Experts support the use of books to support child development in social and emotional health, which is highly interconnected to executive functioning. Children in the early school-age range benefit from intentional introduction to these concepts. Many books geared toward this age lend themselves to activities to further solidify their concepts. 

Executive function books for kids

Here are a few favorites for this age range! 

  • The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds
  • Books by Julia Cook, including It’s Hard to be a VERB!, -Difficulty with impulse control can look like wiggles, getting out of one’s seat, fidgeting, or constantly moving. This is a great book on managing impulses.
  • My Mouth is a Volcano! – A great book on impulse control, managing thoughts and words, and teaching the skill of listening and waiting for one’s turn to speak.
  • Planning Isn’t My Priority…and Making Priorities Isn’t in My Plans!Planning, prioritizing, and thinking ahead can be hard. This book teaches kids about making choices, prioritizing, and using one’s strengths and weaknesses creatively to build these essential executive functioning skills.
  • I Can’t Find My Watchamacallit!– Some kids are more organized than others. This books highlights unique skills and helps kids understand, develop, and apply organization skills.

These books can make reading fun for even the most hesitant reader!

Books on Executive Functioning for Ages 11-18

This is a fun (and critical) age range for executive functioning development! Self-awareness is beginning to develop further. These books emphasize skill development in this area to promote participation in everyday activities!

Executive function books for teens

Check out these books for preteens and teens:

Books on Executive Functioning for Ages 18+

Whether an individual struggling with the demands of executive functioning in everyday life, a parent, or a professional, there are plenty of books for adults to learn more about executive functioning! Some are even available as audiobooks, if you are looking to develop the skill of shifting and divided attention by multitasking! 

In this list, you are bound to find some new favorites! Enjoy learning more about the brain. After all, that in itself is an executive function!

Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

Kids of all ages (including adults) can use The Impulse Control Journal to work on self-regulation, self-control, planning, prioritization, and executive functioning skills in every day tasks. These hands-on journaling sheets are perfect for all ages. Grab the Impulse Control Journal here.

The OT Toolbox contributing author, Emily Skaletski, MOT, OTR/L

This post was written by contributing author, Emily Skaletski, MOT, OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist in the Madison, WI area. Emily participated in the Pennsylvania Occupational Therapy Association’s Emerging Leaders Program (2016), earned her level 1 digital badge in autism from the American Occupational Therapy Association (2017), received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Chatham University (2018), and was appointed the South-Central District Co-Chair of the Wisconsin Occupational Therapy Association (2019). Emily has presented at both state and national conferences and is passionate about professional development. While trained as a generalist, Emily particularly enjoys working with clients with autism spectrum disorder and challenges related to executive functioning skills.

What are Executive Functioning Skills?

What are executive functioning skills? This resource will help understand what executive functions are.

Executive functioning skills are an important component of skilled occupational therapy intervention, but they can be confusing to some. What are executive functioning skills? Executive functioning skills go beyond the basics like working memory and impulse control. In fact, there is not necessarily one agreed-upon definition for executive functioning! Ready to learn more? Keep reading!

What are executive functioning skills and how do attention, organization, working memory, planning and other executive functions help kids with higher cognitive skills?

What are executive FUNCTIONING Skills?

Executive functioning (EF) skills are diverse. Typically, EF consists of skills including the ability to manage emotions, initiate activities within a timely manner, shift attention from topics or activities, control impulses and urges, retain information for use during functional activities, develop plans and formulate systems to perform a desired task, prevent missing materials, and being mindful of how our own behavior impacts others.

Development of executive functioning skills is essential for kids to complete tasks like planning and prioritization.

When do executive functioning skills develop?

Executive functioning skills take a long time to develop! As a result, different ages demonstrate different challenges when facing EF deficits.

While a child in late elementary school may seem successful with their ability to manage classroom materials, turn in homework assignments on time, and engage in age-appropriate behaviors, the same child may demonstrate significant challenges upon the transition to middle school. For example, now they have to return to their locker between classes to exchange books, which is not just a simple stop-and-go activity.

There are distractions, the desire to engage in social interactions, a time crunch to make it to the next class on time, the need to remember what class is next and what materials they need, and not to mention needing to remember the sequence for their combination lock! This all happens before they even make it into their next classroom or head home for the day.

Wondering what are executive functioning skills? Read more about working memory, inhibition, planning, prioritization, organization, and other executive function skills in kids.

How can executive functioning skills improve?

Thanks to the brain’s neuroplasticity, EF skills have potential for improvement! Many daily activities require diverse EF skills, making them a fantastic opportunity to integrate effective strategies.

Emotional regulation as an area of executive functioning:

Emotional regulation is one of the first areas of executive functioning that many parents want to improve, since it can add significant stress to family life. Self-reflection is one way to improve emotional regulation. However, it’s important that this takes place after the big feelings pass, since learning takes place when bodies and minds are “just right.”

This can easily be added to family routines. One way to encourage self-reflection is to have each family member share a positive and negative from the day when seated for dinner.

This also allows for family members to support each other (“Good luck on your test today, Jacob, you studied very hard!”) and provides opportunities for continued conversation (“You mentioned having an argument with your friend at lunch today. Is there anything I can do to help?”). It can also normalize the big feelings we all experience!

Initiation and executive functioning skills:

We’ve all struggled with initiation at some point in our lives; we need to complete items on an ever-growing to-do list, but just don’t know where to start! Kids experience this, too.

For children who are competitive, make a contest out of completing tasks. See who can complete their to-do list the fastest, but with the best quality, too! Teaching children and teens how to become more independent with initiation can be fun and successful.

Shifting as an executive function:

Shifting is often combined with attention, since shifting requires the individual to determine what is important and focus on that, rather than what they might have been doing or thinking before.

Take, for example, a student who was writing a paper on a Shakespearean play for their English class. They’ve now finished the assignment and have moved on to a worksheet on the quadratic formula. Their mind needs to completely turn “off” Shakespeare and turn “on” the quadratic formula.

Luckily, there are many activities for attention. One fun way is to build an obstacle course. Each time the child completes the course, change one of the rules!

For example, the second time, they can only touch primary colors or can only hop on one foot in between obstacles. They will not only need to remember what the new rule is, but they will have to shift away from the old rules!

Inhibition and executive functioning:

Inhibition is often referred to as impulse control. It can be an exhausting component of executive functioning, as it can lead to significant safety concerns.

One way to improve impulse control with younger children is through the game “Red Light, Green Light.” Many children (even early teenagers) enjoy playing versions of “Floor is Lava,” avoiding certain materials as they attempt to navigate a room. This can also be a great way to work on working memory!

Working memory as an executive function:

Working memory can be a significant challenge for many individuals. Working memory requires us to retain learned information and use it during daily activities.

There are many ways to support working memory development and deficits. There are many task-management apps available, even for things like medication management. For activities to improve working memory, try playing games like Magic Labyrinth, Melissa and Doug’s Sandwich Stacking Game, or making a recipe!

Planning/organizing for executive functioning success:

Planning for projects and organizing ideas is stressful! It can be helpful to go through large assignments one at a time. Break the assignment into manageable pieces, including what materials are needed for that step and when that step needs to be completed.

The good news is that these skills can experience definite improvements with practice. Check out this link for more information and strategies.

Organization of materials and executive functioning:

Messy rooms with laundry covering the floor, desks and lockers overflowing with paper, expandable folders filled to the brim with assignments—these are the signs of a disorganized student! Organization is often the first thing to go when a person feels stressed or overwhelmed, as it can be time-consuming.

To support a child’s organization skills development, try making checklists for their locker or desk. As they place each item into their backpack, they can check a box to make sure they have everything they need before they go! Or, use labels to clearly define where belongings go in a closet or on a bookshelf.

Executive functioning skills in kids are needed for complex multi step tasks, completion of tasks, and learning.

Monitoring for executive functioning success:

Monitoring is important since we all interactive with others on a daily basis! Monitoring is the acknowledgement that we behave in certain ways and that these behaviors can affect other people.

Self-reflection (mentioned above) can be a good way to promote monitoring. An individual can process through what they think went well, what they struggled with, and how they think others felt during these events. Behavior charts can also be helpful by clearly listing out what the expectation is and whether the individual demonstrated that skill area. Ultimately, the goal is to encourage self-monitoring as much as possible, rather than adults monitoring the child. The possibilities for monitoring strategies  are diverse and it’s possible to find something that works for each person.

More Executive Functioning Skills Resources:

  • Free Executive Function Mini-Course- Wondering about what are executive functioning skills? This Executive Functioning Skills Course is a FREE, 5-day email course that will help you understand executive functioning and all that is included in the set of mental skills.
  • This collection of executive functioning skills resources outline many aspects of higher cognitive skills through various EF skill areas.
  • Getting organized can be a start to addressing several executive functioning skill areas. Here is a collection of organization strategies, tips, and tools.
What are executive functioning skills? This resource on attention, organization, planning, and other executive functions helps kids develop skills needed for learning.
The OT Toolbox contributing author, Emily Skaletski, MOT, OTR/L

This post was written by contributing author, Emily Skaletski, MOT, OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist in the Madison, WI area. Emily participated in the Pennsylvania Occupational Therapy Association’s Emerging Leaders Program (2016), earned her level 1 digital badge in autism from the American Occupational Therapy Association (2017), received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Chatham University (2018), and was appointed the South-Central District Co-Chair of the Wisconsin Occupational Therapy Association (2019). Emily has presented at both state and national conferences and is passionate about professional development. While trained as a generalist, Emily particularly enjoys working with clients with autism spectrum disorder and challenges related to executive functioning skills.

Resources for Adults With Executive Function Disorder

Resources for adults with executive function disorder
Here, you will find tools and information for adult executive function disorder and executive functioning issues that impact the way we pay attention, focus, plan, and prioritize. These are strategies that can impact executive functioning needs so that organization, impulse control, planning, time management, and other executive functioning skills are improved and regulated in daily life tasks.
 
My daughter has battled Executive Function Disorder all of her life, but right now, it is really preventing her from moving forward with her life. Things like completing a task, making decisions, time management, and projecting ahead are SO HARD. Is there anything that can help my adult daughter struggling with executive functioning disorder?
 
Does this sound at all familiar? So often, executive functioning challenges are present in adults. In fact, there are everyday challenges that are very difficult for adults with executive functioning needs. Things like organization, planning, and flexible thinking can be a real struggle. As kids with these challenges move into adulthood, some areas that we might expect to develop just never seem to change. It’s not uncommon; the fact is that executive functioning skills are a very broad set of skills. Forgetting things, difficulty with inhibiting behaviors or actions, trouble with planning big projects, or staying organized in the daily life of an adult…everyone deals with these challenges at one time or another. The challenges become a problem when  social, emotional, intellectual, or organizational aspects are disrupted.  A person’s career/job/family life/etc. can be devastated by difficulties with executive functioning skills. 
 

Difficulties with the higher-level cognitive skills that make up executive function can impact adults by limiting one’s ability to “connect the dots” and can impact other areas of executive functioning as well. 

 
For the adult with executive function disorder, challenges can present in many different ways. There may be no trouble with impulsivity or attention struggles, however other mental skills can be quite difficulty. Sometimes, seeing the “big picture” is the problem. For others, it’s just making decisions. Still others lack time management and have difficulty with multi-tasking. 
 
 

 

Adults with executive function disorder can struggle with organization, trouble with planning, prioritization, etc.Here are tools and strategies to help the adult with executive function problems.i

 

 
 

Executive Function in Adults

Here’s the thing: There is a lot of information out there for kids who are struggling with these areas. However, for most of us, executive functioning skills are still developing well into the adult years. In fact, executive function skills don’t typically develop until the early 20s. Development of executive functioning skills occurs up through the college years (and beyond), making that transition from the home setting of high-school into a college dorm very difficult for many. 
 
So, for some adults who are challenged in these areas, there can be simply a few accommodations or strategies put into place. Simply using a few set of tools designed to address these needs can allow for improved skills like organization and time management which are then carried over to other areas. 
 
For other adults who may have always struggled with seeing the big picture, planning tasks, or staying focused on a task, this is the typical development for that individual. In other words, some adults may be gaining improvements and strengthening the skills they’ve got, just at a lower level than another adult. In these cases, strategies and tools can make a difference here, too. 
 
Below, you will find curated information from around the web that will be instrumental in making an effortful improvement in executive functioning needs. Read through this information and use it as best fits the needs you or an adult with executive functioning challenges might be experiencing. Remember that everyone is different in their strengths, weaknesses, needs, interests, and experiences. This information is not intended to treat or address specific needs, but rather, as educational material. Seek professional help when needed. 
 

Adult Executive Functioning Disorder

 
There are several areas that may be an area of difficulty for the adult with executive functioning challenges. Some of these problem areas may include:
Difficulty making plans
Difficulty making decisions
Time management
Trouble with organization
Difficulty keeping important papers organized
Trouble prioritizing 
Poor emotional control 
Difficulty with flexible thinking
Trouble thinking “on the spot”
Trouble using a schedule
Trouble getting out of the house on time
Trouble with impulsive buys
Difficulty paying bills on time
Difficulty with losing keys or important items
Trouble following through with plans
Trouble picking the most important tasks
Trouble doing the important parts of tasks first
Trying to do too much at once
Constantly running late
Difficulty listening to a person talking without thinking of other things
Easily frustrated
Forget the last step/steps in a multi-step task
 
It’s easy to see how the list above can look so different for different people, especially when considering aspects such as job requirements, family obligations, outside situations or other issues that may make a difference in the occupational performance of an individual. 
 
Adults with executive function disorder can struggle with organization, trouble with planning, prioritization, etc.Here are tools and strategies to help the adult with executive function problems.i
 
Some easy to apply tools can include low-tech or high-tech strategies such as:
 
  • Use a paper planner or calendar to keep track of obligations
  • Set up a filing system to keep track of and manage mail and important papers
  • Use highlighters and colorful sticky notes to make a visual organization system
  • Use apps to stay organized. Here are some Alexa Skills that can help with executive functioning skills like organization, etc.
  • Set up calendar reminders on a phone or smartwatch
  • Set up automatic payment plans for bills
  • Brainstorm routines and weekly/daily tasks and strategies to make decision-making less stressful and easier
  • Think through and visualize the day or week ahead and predict any challenge that may arise
  • Create routines and calendars for ongoing tasks
  • Create brain dumping lists for big tasks and set goals with specific dates and timelines
  • Use a daily journal to track each day’s events. The Impulse Control Journal can be used by adults as well as kids. The “look” of the journal is not childish, and has many components that can translate to an adult’s needs in promoting organizational, time management, etc. 


More Resources for Adults with Executive Function Disorder

Here are some symptoms of executive function disorder in adults. Some of the symptoms include time blindness, self-motivation, and an inability to keep future events in mind. Do these symptoms sound familiar?


One symptom that is mentioned is the regulation of one’s non-verbal working memory, or our inner critic. This is an area that can be detrimental to some, especially when self-conscious of weaknesses that impact life choices or struggles.  Here is one simple strategy for self-talk in kids, but can be morphed into an age-appropriate version for adults. 

If an adult or someone who is trying to help an adult with executive function needs would like to look into testing, here is a self-test that may help with self-awareness of the problems that can easily be addressed through strategies and tools. Use this information to move forward with professional help if necessary. 

Another article that can “bring to light” some of the concerns with executive functioning needs is this article about the day in the life of an adult with EFD. It really highlights the challenge of managing other people’s schedules, the workplace juggling act, and managing relationships.

Time management tools, including simple planners and time management apps can be helpful. Here are more tools for addressing time management and other tools such as motivation, scheduling, prioritization, and other challenges. 

This article discusses ADHD, but a lot of the tips and strategies can carryover to any need with planning ahead.


Finally, remember that many of the executive functioning strategies that are out there and presented in books can be used just as easily and seamlessly by adults. The same strategies that work for keeping track of homework tasks by a child can be used by an adult who needs to manage bills and important papers. 

 

How to plan and prioritize tasks

The Impulse Control Journal is your guide to addressing the underlying skills that play into trouble with planning and prioritization. 

The journal is an 80 page collection of worksheets and prompts to discover what’s really going on behind executive functioning skills like planning, organization, prioritization, working memory, and of course, impulse control. 

While the guide was developed for students of all ages, this printable workbook is perfect for adults, too. It can help you discover strategies that make a real impact for all of the skills needed to get things done. 

Here’s the thing; Everyone is SO different when it comes to struggles related to executive functioning and everyone’s interests, needs, challenges, strengths, and weaknesses are different too. All of these areas play into the challenges we see on the surface. And, this is where the Impulse Control Journal really hits those strengths, weaknesses, and challenges where it matters…in creating a plan that really works for kids of all ages (and adults, too!)


Check out the Impulse Control Journal, and grab it before the end of February, because you’ll get a bonus packet of Coping Cards while the journal is at it’s lowest price. 


The Impulse Control Journal has been totally revamped to include 79 pages of tools to address the habits, mindset, routines, and strategies to address impulse control in kids. 
 
More about the Impulse Control Journal:
  • 30 Drawing Journal Pages to reflect and pinpoint individual strategies 
  • 28 Journal Lists so kids can write quick checklists regarding strengths, qualities, supports, areas of need, and insights 
  • 8 Journaling worksheets to pinpoint coping skills, feelings, emotions, and strategies that work for the individual 
  • Daily and Weekly tracking sheets for keeping track of tasks and goals 
  • Mindset,Vision, and Habit pages for helping kids make an impact 
  • Self-evaluation sheets to self-reflect and identify when inhibition is hard and what choices look like 
  • Daily tracker pages so your child can keep track of their day 
  • Task lists to monitor chores and daily tasks so it gets done everyday  
  • Journal pages to help improve new habits  
  • Charts and guides for monitoring impulse control so your child can improve their self confidence
  • Strategy journal pages to help kids use self-reflection and self-regulation so they can succeed at home and in the classroom  
  • Goal sheets for setting goals and working to meet those goals while improving persistence  
  • Tools for improving mindset to help kids create a set of coping strategies that work for their needs  
This is a HUGE digital resource that you can download and print to use over and over again.  
 
 
These tips and strategies to help with executive functioning skills can be used by adults who are challenged with difficulty in planning, prioritization, organization and other cognitive skills.

How to Improve Executive Function

Executive functioning resources
Here, you will find a variety of information on executive functioning. These are resources curated from around the internet designed to improve executive function. I wanted to create a space that has information on executive functioning skills that can be accessed all in one place. It is my hope that this space is one where you can find strategies and tools for addressing problems with attention, organization, task initiation, planning, prioritization, and many other mental skills that cause so many individuals to struggle. Use these tools, tips, and information to work on executive functioning by starting at the beginning!

Wondering how to improve executive function? Here are 20 online resources for understanding executive functioning skills.
Improve executive function skills in kids or adults with these strategies and tips.

If you’ve noticed anything about The OT Toolbox, it may be that I love to share a lot of tools and resources that can help parents, teachers, and of course, occupational therapists. The information in this post are resources and tools that I share on one of our Facebook pages, Executive Functioning Toolbox. Some readers who do not have access to Facebook have asked for access to this collection of information. It’s my hope that THIS can be an executive function toolbox!

Here are strategies to help the adult with executive function disorder. Many of these tips and strategies are great for teens as well.

How to Improve Executive Function

Free email course on executive functioning skills
1. First, you may want to sign up for our free Executive Functioning Skills Email Course, if you haven’t already. Over the course of 5 days, we’ll cover everything from what executive function means, to the “why” behind actions, and things that may be occurring beneath the surface in the individual with executive function disorder or simply challenges with one or more of the mental skills. You’ll also get great tips and strategies to work on executive functioning skills, too. 
Read more about what you’ll learn and sign up for the free executive functioning course here.
Use these resources to improve executive function in kids and adults.

More information and tools you can use to improve executive function:

2. There are many benefits to having kids with attention or learning challenges participate in martial arts. Here’s why martial arts can help kids with attention problems
3. Inhibition is a big part of executive functioning skills that play into many other EF skill areas like planning, prioritization, task initiation, perseverance, and more. Here are some Impulse Control Strategies.
4. Here is a self-test to help determine if you or someone else has an executive function disorder. 
5. Foresight, or the ability to think ahead, is a big part of executive functioning. This skill works together with working memory, and other skills to allow us to problem solve, plan, and prioritize tasks. Here is more on foresight and activities and games to improve foresight.

6. “Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.” Here is more information on executive function and self-regulation.

7. Here are 9 Best Apps and Sites to Improve Executive Function– These can be a helpful tool for so many!

8. Looking to add items to your child’s holiday gift list that serve a purpose? Keep these games in mind when choosing gifts for a child who struggles with executive functioning skills. 

9. An introduction to working memory: “Compared to short-term memory, working memory plays a more influential role in students’ academic performance. This is because many academic tasks involve multiple steps with intermediate solutions, and students need to remember those intermediate solutions as they proceed through the tasks. Examples of working memory tasks could include holding a person’s address in mind while listening to instructions about how to get there, or listening to a sequence of events in a story while trying to understand what the story means. In mathematics, a working memory task could involve keeping a formula in mind while at the same time using the formula to solve a math problem.”
10. Understanding what it’s like to have executive function disorder: “It only took three-and-a-half minutes of simulated executive functioning issues to bring me to tears of frustration. It still makes me panicky to think about it.”
11. This site has much information, resources, articles, and tools for addressing executive functioning skills and needs in these mental skill areas.
12. Does a lack of executive function explain why some kids fall way behind in school? This report discusses the idea.
13. Here is general info on EF skills, anatomy of executive functioning, and a quick list of instruments used to assess executive behavior.
14. What is executive function disorder, and how is it different than ADHD? Here is a nice explanation.
15. Here is an assessment of Sensory Processing and Executive Functions in Childhood..
16. Want to understand more? This article is informative: “There’s no diagnosis called executive function disorder. You won’t find it in the DSM-5, the manual clinicians use to diagnose conditions. But you can still identify weaknesses in executive function by having your child evaluated.
Executive function is complex, so it can be tricky to evaluate. But there are specific tests that look at a wide range of skills that are involved in executive function. These skills include…”

17. Wondering how executive functioning skills develop through childhood?

18. Need ideas to work on  EF skills? Here are a few completely free and no-prep games that build executive functioning skills: “Parents who want to stimulate their children’s brain development often focus on things like early reading, flashcards and language tapes. But a growing body of research suggests that playing certain kinds of childhood games may be the best way to increase a child’s ability to do well in school. Variations on games like Freeze Tag and Simon Says require relatively high
levels of executive function, testing a child’s ability to pay attention, remember rules and exhibit self ­control — qualities that also predict academic success.”

19. Need creative ways to address executive function weaknesses? This bundle of card games are helpful for improving working memory, attention to detail, response inhibition, sustained attention and mental shifting.Get a set here (affiliate link).

20. Looking for more information on executive functioning skills? Here is all of the executive functioning skills items on this website that can help.

21. Finally, here are more executive function resources.

Stay tuned for more tools being added to this page all the time.

These executive function resources can help improve skills like working memory, attention, and other executive functioning skills.

Executive Functioning Skills- Teach Planning and Prioritization

Planning and prioritization activities

We’ve been talking a lot about executive functioning skills here on The OT Toolbox recently. There’s a reason why: so many kids struggle with executive function disorder or just are challenged by sills that make up the executive functions. Planning and prioritizing tasks is a big concern for many kids who struggle. These skill areas are essential for initiating tasks and following through with projects.


Use these tips and strategies to teach planning skills and prioritization skills, two executive functioning skills needed for everyday tasks in the classroom and home.

How to teach Planning and Prioritization

We know the feeling of being stuck on a big project. It can be overwhelming when we are presented with a task so immense that we spin our wheels with fixing problems. Maybe a big house remodel or other multi-step project comes to mind. For our kids with executive functioning challenges, the smallest project or task can be overwhelming. Planning and prioritization are a big part of that.


In fact, many adults struggle with the skills of planning and prioritization, too. Recently, I’ve had many readers reach out in response to our free executive functioning skills email course. Several readers have indicated that much of the information applies to themselves (and adults) or other adults they know. Planning and prioritization are skills that can be difficult to establish well into adulthood. For the adult with executive functioning difficulties, these are common concerns and challenges. The information below can be a help to children, teens, and even adults.  


Here are strategies to help the adult with executive function disorder. Many of these tips and strategies are great for teens as well. 

planning and prioritization Problems

You’ve probably seen the child that:

  • Can’t get started on homework
  • Has trouble figuring out how to start a big assignment like a book report
  • Starts a project but then never finishes because they struggle with the steps
  • Has difficulty remembering and completing all of the steps to when getting dressed and ready for the day
  • Can’t figure out the most important assignments to complete first
  • Has trouble when there are more than a few items on a “to-do” list
  • Can’t sequence a project visually or verbally
  • Has trouble looking at the “big picture”
  • Can’t figure out how to find the important items when cleaning out a messy desk
  • Overwhelmed when planning out the day



The activities listed below can help with the executive functioning skills of planning and prioritization:


Prioritization is another complex executive functioning skill that, when achieved, provides kids with the ability to achieve goals. Deciding on steps of a process and thinking through that process to work toward the most important tasks is a difficult skill for many kids.


When prioritization is difficult for a person, getting every day tasks like getting dressed, completing homework, or multi-step tasks can be nearly impossible.


Prioritization allows us to make decisions about what is important so we can know what to focus on and what’s not as important. Being able to discern tasks that are necessary from those that we should do is crucial.


Prioritization is a critical skill to have, but can take some practice to achieve. Try the activities listed below to support development of this skill.

Activities to Teach Prioritization



Provide opportunities to practice prioritizing by planning simple tasks. Talk about how to build a snowman, how to make a bed, and other tasks they are familiar with.


Discuss the most important steps of tasks. What must be done before any other step can be done.


Show kids photos, and ask for their opinions about what they found to be the most important detail or big idea.


Make to-do lists to help kids plan and prioritize. Once you have everything written down, then rank tasks in order of importance.


Make a list of assignments with due dates. Highlight the things that must be done first.


Create a calendar and schedule.


Create a daily task list. Check off items as they are completed.


Try easy projects. If something seems to “big”, break it down into smaller steps. 

How to Teach Planning

Planning is an executive functioning skill that refers to the ability to create a plan or a roadmap to reach a goal. Completing tasks requires the ability to have a mental plan in place so that things get done.


Planning and prioritization are EF skills that are closely related. Additionally, skills like foresight, working memory, and organization enable successful planning.


Planning can be a stumbling block for many with executive functioning challenges. Try the activities below to support the ability to plan out tasks:


Draw out plans. The drawing prompts in the Impulse Control Journal can be a great exercise in using drawing to work on real skills and goals with kids.


Teach kids to create a mind map to plan out a multiple step project.


Teach kids to create lists. Using sticky notes can make planning easier and allow kids to physically move tasks to a “done” pile as they are completed.


Plan a simple task like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Ask kids to write out the steps then check them off as they are completed.

Take planning and prioritization a step farther

Want to really take executive function skills like planning and prioritization to the next level of success? The Impulse Control Journal is your guide to addressing the underlying skills that play into trouble with planning and prioritization. 


The journal is an 80 page collection of worksheets and prompts to discover what’s really going on behind executive functioning skills like planning, organization, prioritization, working memory, and of course, impulse control. 


While the guide was developed for students of all ages, this printable workbook is perfect for adults, too. It can help you discover strategies that make a real impact for all of the skills needed to get things done. 


Here’s the thing; Everyone is SO different when it comes to struggles related to executive functioning and everyone’s interests, needs, challenges, strengths, and weaknesses are different too. All of these areas play into the challenges we see on the surface. And, this is where the Impulse Control Journal really hits those strengths, weaknesses, and challenges where it matters…in creating a plan that really works for kids of all ages (and adults, too!)


Check out the Impulse Control Journal, and grab it before the end of February, because you’ll get a bonus packet of Coping Cards while the journal is at it’s lowest price. 


The Impulse Control Journal has been totally revamped to include 79 pages of tools to address the habits, mindset, routines, and strategies to address impulse control in kids. 
 
More about the Impulse Control Journal:
  • 30 Drawing Journal Pages to reflect and pinpoint individual strategies 
  • 28 Journal Lists so kids can write quick checklists regarding strengths, qualities, supports, areas of need, and insights 
  • 8 Journaling worksheets to pinpoint coping skills, feelings, emotions, and strategies that work for the individual 
  • Daily and Weekly tracking sheets for keeping track of tasks and goals 
  • Mindset, Vision, and Habit pages for helping kids make an impact
  • Self-evaluation sheets to self-reflect and identify when inhibition is hard and what choices look like 
  • Daily tracker pages so your child can keep track of their day 
  • Task lists to monitor chores and daily tasks so it gets done everyday  
  • Journal pages to help improve new habits  
  • Charts and guides for monitoring impulse control so your child can improve their self confidence
  • Strategy journal pages to help kids use self-reflection and self-regulation so they can succeed at home and in the classroom  
  • Goal sheets for setting goals and working to meet those goals while improving persistence  
  • Tools for improving mindset to help kids create a set of coping strategies that work for their needs  
  
This is a HUGE digital resource that you can download and print to use over and over again.  
 

 

Fun Mindfulness Activities

Here, you will find fun mindfulness activities to help kids with creative mindfulness exercises that can help kids feel better, reduce stress, address anxiety, and have a greater awareness of their body and mind. Mindfulness activities for kids can be used as a self-regulation tool or a coping strategy. The sky’s the limit!


Looking for more ways to teach mindfulness? Here are winter themed mindfulness activities that kids will love. 

These FUN Mindfulness activities are helpful self-regulation tools for kids.


Fun Mindfulness Activities



First, let’s talk about what mindfulness means.

Mindfulness activities for kids can help kids with attention coping, learning, self-regulation, and more!

What is mindfulness?



Mindfulness is the ability to bring your attention to the events happening in the moment. It allows us to carefully observe our thoughts and feeling, to develop a sense of self awareness.  Mindfulness can be done anywhere. It does not require special equipment. It can be as easy as sitting and thinking or visualizing a place in your mind.

Who is mindfulness good for?



Mindfulness is great for any age, including kids. School can be a very overwhelming experience with expectations, rules, noises, crowds. Being able to do fun mindfulness activities can be a good way for children to self-regulate, focus and feel better emotionally and physically. Learning how to self-regulate (being able to manage your own emotions) is an important skill to learn at a young age.


Mindfulness is a helpful tool in addressing executive functioning skills needs in kids.


Mindfulness activities for kids



Listed below are some easy, beginning mindfulness activities to try with kids.
Looking for more ideas? Here are some mindfulness videos on YouTube.

Mindfulness Activity #1: Mindful Breathing- 

Taking deep breaths is so important in relaxation it brings awareness to your body. There are many different ways to teach kids to take deep breaths and then blow out. Using a pinwheel, blowing bubbles, blowing out candles, picturing a balloon opening and closing with breath. Even having your child breath in while you count to 5 and then breath out.

Mindfulness Activity #2: Body Scan- 

Have your child lay on his/her back. Tell them to tense up all muscles from head to toe and hold for 10-15 seconds. Then have them release and relax, ask them how they feel. This exercise helps kids to recognize how their body is feeling in a tense vs. Calm state.

Mindfulness Activity #3: Visualization or Guided Imagery–

This is a relaxation technique that is used to promote positive mental images. You can find guided imagery scripts online, pertaining to many different subjects from nature to emotions. Start by having your child close their eyes, while seated or lying down. Slowly read the script and have them visualize the image in their minds, then have them draw a picture of that place and keep it in their desk or at home as a reference to a calm place for them.

Mindfulness Activity #4: Take a Walk- 

Being outside and taking a walk is a great way for your child to be present in the moment. Point out the different sounds heard from birds chirping to leaves rustling. Notice the smell of the fresh cut grass or flowers. Feel the different textures of sand and rocks. Notice the sun, wind and clouds. Bring a blanket and lay on the grass, look up at the trees, look at the clouds.   Walk over to a pound and listen for frogs, look for fish and throw rocks in to make a splash.

Mindfulness Activity # 5: Stretching/Yoga- 

Taking deep breaths and stretching can be a very calming and teaches you to be aware of how your body is feeling.  Turn the lights down, put on relaxing music and help guide your child through bedtime relaxation stretches for kids.


Use these mindfulness strategies for kids as a coping strategy, to help with attention in the classroom, to impact learning, or to address self-regulation needs. What’s very cool is that each awareness activity could be themed to fit classroom or homeschool lessons, the curriculum, or seasons. Make these mindfulness activities fit the needs of your classroom, clients, and kids!


Mindfulness is a coping strategy used in The Impulse Control Journal.

The Impulse control journal is a printable journal for kids that helps them to identify goals, assess successes, and address areas of needs. The Impulse Control Journal is a printable packet of sheets that help kids with impulse control needs.

Read more about The Impulse Control Journal HERE.

The Impulse Control Journal has been totally revamped to include 79 pages of tools to address the habits, mindst, routines, and strategies to address impulse control in kids.

More about the Impulse Control Journal:

  • 30 Drawing Journal Pages to reflect and pinpoint individual strategies
  • 28 Journal Lists so kids can write quick checklists regarding strengths, qualities, supports, areas of need, and insights
  • 8 Journaling worksheets to pinpoint coping skills, feelings, emotions, and strategies that work for the individual
  • Daily and Weekly tracking sheets for keeping track of tasks and goals
  • Mindset,Vision, and Habit pages for helping kids make an impact
  • Self-evaluation sheets to self-reflect and identify when inhibition is hard and what choices look like
  • Daily tracker pages so your child can keep track of their day
  • Task lists to monitor chores and daily tasks so it gets done everyday
  • Journal pages to help improve new habits
  • Charts and guides for monitoring impulse control so your child can improve their self-confidence
  • Strategy journal pages to help kids use self-reflection and self-regulation so they can succeed at home and in the classroom
  • Goal sheets for setting goals and working to meet those goals while improving persistence
  • Tools for improving mindset to help kids create a set of coping strategies that work for their needs
This is a HUGE digital resource that you can download and print to use over and over again.  







These fun mindfulness activities for kids can help kids in so many ways!

About Christina:
Christina Komaniecki is a school based Occupational Therapist. I graduated from Governors State University with a master’s in occupational therapy.   I have been working in the pediatric setting for almost 6 years and have worked in early intervention, outpatient pediatrics, inpatient pediatrics, day rehab, private clinic and schools. My passion is working with children and I love to see them learn new things and grow. I love my two little girls, family, yoga and going on long walks.