ADHD Tools for Parents of Children with Attention Difficulties

ADHD tools

Here you will find a number of ADHD tools and supports for individuals with ADHD, including ADHD resources for parents. The statistics of the number of people with Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD) is staggering.  These numbers are compounded by the fact that attention deficit is difficult to diagnose.  The market is flooded with ADHD resources, and strategies to support attention needs, but what are the right ones? Doctors and other professionals could be over or under diagnosing due to this difficulty in gathering accurate data.

ADHD tools for kids and parents of children with ADHD

Yes there are ADHD checklists, surveys, and questionnaires, but they are not scientific or 100% accurate.  They are often based on opinion and observation versus data.  This is a stark contrast to diagnosing down syndrome or hearing loss, that is tracked by concrete data or genetic testing. 

ADHD TOOLS

When it comes to specifically ADHD tools, my advice is to take these diagnoses with a grain of salt.  Look more for symptoms, behaviors, skills, and difficulties rather than relying on a label.  It does not matter as much that this is called ADD, ADHD, or ABCD, but what are the struggles the learner is having? 

To best support any diagnosis (attention diagnoses being one), focus on the struggles, creating measurable and relevant goals, instead of focusing on the label.

To best support a child with attention challenges, find ADHD resources you can trust to provide useful information and strategies.

Having any label, diagnosis, or list of symptoms can feel overwhelming. The number of attention related resources available on the internet are astounding.  But which are accurate?  Who can you believe?  There are no easy answers unfortunately.  

Which way to turn for ADHD TOOLS?

When there is an overwhelming amount of data presented at one time, the best jumping off point is to rely on the feedback of others.  Sometimes it is a trusted doctor or friend, but more often than not, it can be a large crowd of strangers. 

When looking for the perfect resource to share with parents, I usually turn to Amazon and start reading the reviews.  I read a ton of reviews before making my selections.  This is time consuming, however I do not have time to read something that is not a good resource, has incorrect information, or written in a terrible format.

Attention Resources from Amazon

There are some solid attention resources from Amazon available, including ADHD audiobooks, and other formats that have good reviews. I have not personally read them, but have taken the time to research them and read the long reviews.

Amazon affiliate links are included below.

Amazon has some great ADHD audiobook resources for parents and professionals available on Audible and other formats. Audiobooks are a great alternative to paper books, as they can be listened to almost anywhere.

There are tons of resources on attention and ADHD in audiobooks. I tried to find ones that had good reviews, were accurate and easy to read/listen to, and provided useful strategies.

If you are an Amazon Prime member, You’re eligible to claim 2 free titles from our entire selection (one title per month thereafter) with a free Audible 30 day trial. A standard trial includes 1 credit for an audiobook download. After the Audible trial period, all members receive 1 credit per month.

Click here start your free Audible Trial Period.

Delivered From Distraction: Getting the most of out Life with Attention Deficit Disorder.  This book is written for teens or adults with ADD.  This may be helpful for parents as well, as attention deficits tend to run in families.  It can be read cover to cover or in sections.  The author says, feel free to skip around.

You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?: A Self-help Audio Program for Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder  As with most books I have found, there are going to be people who do not like the book.  This is to be expected.  However, more people say they liked it than the few who did not. I like that this is available in audio, as some people are more auditory learners than visual. Finding an hour in the car to listen seems much easier than trying to carve out that same hour reading on the couch.

Taking Charge of ADHD, Third Edition: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents This book is available in several formats. Audible is one that may be easier for parents to listen to, as their couch time is limited. This book takes a real look at ADHD.  Most people found this book helpful. The few that did not, found this book too straight forward or maybe “depressing.”

The ADHD Advantage: What You Thought Was a Diagnosis May Be Your Greatest Strength. This book came as a recommendation from a reviewer who needed a positive spin on ADHD after reading all of the devastating facts and figures about ADHD. 

Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD, 2nd Edition – Revised and Updated: Tips and Tools to Help You Take Charge of Your Life and Get Organized  This book points people in the direction of real life solutions. It is fine to spend time researching the “what” and “why” of a diagnosis, but without real solutions, the research just leaves people frustrated. It can be used for adults and adapted for children. 

The OT Toolbox has a great post on Organization and Attention Challenges.

Smart but Scattered Teens: The “Executive Skills” Program for Helping Teens Reach Their Potential Positive reviews praise this book for its information about working with teens with attention issues or decreased executive function.  It gives doable strategies that work for teens.  The strategies are motivating for modern teens. Critical reviews cite that this book is more about the “what and why” rather than the “what to do about it” side of this diagnosis. Much of the advice centers around driving, and using technology to help teens.  On a positive note, this is what motivates teens to perform.  On the flip side, not everyone has a driving teen or wants to encourage use of electronics.

Books for younger learners:

Marvin’s Monster Diary: ADHD Attacks! (And I Rock, Big Time): St4 Mindfulness Book for Kids Written in the Wimpy Kid book series, this is a cute motivating book series for children who struggle with attention issues to relate to.  It is available in several formats including Audible.  This might be a good book to buy in print and listen to Audible at the same time.

Marvin’s Monster Diary 2 + Lyssa!: ADHD Emotion Explosion (But I Triumph, Big Time!)  This second book in the Monster Diary series proves to be a winner as well.  It has several positive reviews about it’s entertainment value, readability, and writing style. Again because it is a graphic novel type of read, it would be excellent paired with the written version as well as Audible.

A Dragon With ADHD: A Children’s Story About ADHD. A Cute Book to Help Kids Get Organized, Focus, and Succeed. (My Dragon Books 41) This is another great series to keep children interested while learning about ADHD.  This series covers a multitude of topics.  The nice thing about series is if you buy into one, it sets the reader on a whole journey of discovery. This is written for children, however reviewers say that adults, therapists, and parents will enjoy this book as well.

Focused Ninja: A Children’s Book About Increasing Focus and Concentration at Home and School (Ninja Life Hacks)   This book is part of a Ninja series teaching children valuable lessons in an entertaining method. If you were a fan of the Mr. Men book series, you will like this one.  Each ninja is named after the skill he lacks or is trying to gain.

The OT Toolbox ADHD and attention resources

The OT Toolbox has become a trusted resource for many of you reading these posts and subscribing to the website. The OT Toolbox does not disappoint and has wonderful articles, activities, and resources to fill your “toolbox”, not only on topics such as ADHD and attention, but fine motor, sensory, gross motor, executive function and so much more.

Type ADD, Attention resources for parents, or ADHD activities into the search bar for a great list of archived posts. Just when you are overwhelmed with information and resources, try wrapping your head around the sensory connection between attention and organization challenges.

It is no wonder there is such misdiagnosis, confusion, and misinformation out there. Autism, ADD, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Anxiety, and about a dozen other diagnoses have overlapping and similar symptoms. Keep your focus on how to help and move forward rather than where did this come from, or what is this called?

Happy reading, take a deep breath, one moment at a time!

Victoria Wood

Victoria Wood, OTR/L has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

Adults With Executive Function Disorder

Resources for adults with executive function disorder

Here, you will find tools and information for adults with executive function disorder and executive functioning issues that impact day to day tasks in adulthood. For adults, executive functioning skills are a part of everything we do. They impact the way we pay attention, focus, plan, and prioritize. Here, you’ll find 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.

Adults with Executive Function Disorder

Now you might be thinking, “Executive function disorder?! I don’t have a disorder!” And that is probably the case in most instances for those reading this article. However, there are many of us who struggle on a day to day basis with things like getting started on chores or problems (task initiation), staying focused (attention), losing things constantly (organization), getting out of the house on time on a regular basis (task completion), and a variety of other challenges that impact our lives and generally stress us out. These are not the components that define a disorder, but they are executive functioning challenges that impact day to day life. It’s my hope that this resource offers tools to make the overall wellbeing better, and to offer tools for adults with executive function challenges easier!

Let’s break down executive functioning skills in adults and take a look at how things like focus, attention, organization impact life skills in adulthood.

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 but we don’t stop and think, this isn’t how things have to be. 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 that impacts family life, work life, personal relationships, and the things we need to do every day.

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.

Executive function in adults is developmental. 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.   

Making changes to executive function in adults can mean looking at the big picture.

Adults need to do adult things, right? Areas of life skills where executive functioning skills impact “getting things done” include:

  • Obtaining a job
  • Maintaining a job
  • Creating personal relationships
  • Maintaining personal relationships
  • Sustaining a clean and safe home
  • Completing large home projects (inside the home and outside the home)
  • Shopping
  • Paying bills
  • Transporting oneself to work, the community
  • Making healthy choices
  • Cooking and cleaning up food
  • Taking medications
  • Contributing to the community
  • Caring for children

When you think about the life changes that happen between high school graduation to accomplishing all of these high-level executive functioning skills, you can see how there is a developmental change that occurs between the ages of 18-25.

Executive Functioning Skill Components

In order to complete high-level thinking and planning tasks, adults require development of several executive functioning areas:

  • Planning
  • Prioritization
  • Attention
  • Organization
  • Task Completion
  • Task Initiation
  • Problem Solving
  • Working Memory
  • Self-control
  • Flexibility
  • Self-awareness

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. 

Adults and distractibility 

We are distracted by many things, and that level of distractibility is impacted by advances in screens, stimuli around us, faster lifestyles, more options, and increasing availability of information.

Some good resources to check out on adults and distractibility include:

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

The is fact that adult executive functioning impacts everything we do as adults. Take a look at this adult executive functioning skill checklist.

Some of these problem areas for adult executive functioning issues 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.   

Executive Functioning Skills and Emotions

Executive functioning kills and emotional regulation are closely related. Playing a role in the ability to function and complete day-to-day tasks is the role of the limbic system when it comes to executive functioning skills. Managing emotions, and emotional regulation can greatly impact the adult with executive function challenges.   

These structures and their hormones control functions such as emotions, behavior, motivation, sleep, appetite, olfaction, stress response. In adults, the role of the limbic system impacts household tasks completed, grocery shopping, paying bills, getting to work on time, caring for children and other daily life tasks.

This is really interesting, because you may connect the dots with this list and see that social emotional skills, executive functioning, inner drives, and sensory processing (including the sense of smell and interoception) all centered in one place in the brain! (This is not to say that these are the only places in the brain that operate these functions as well.) All of this can be considered when addressing needs using a specific sensory diet for adults that center on the areas of needs for the individual struggling with executive functioning skills.

You can see how the role of emotions and regulating daily stressors impacts attention, organization, task initiation, task completion, and problem solving.

Generally speaking, the limbic system is the emotional brain but this piece of the EF puzzle has a huge role for adults who are expected to act…like adults!

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

Tips for adult executive functioning

Some easy to apply tools can impact executive functioning challenges in adults. These strategies 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. 

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. 

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, 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 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.

What does executive function disorder look like in adults?

Things like distraction, time blindness, distractibility, and attention or organization issues can be common in adults with executive function disorder. Here are other signs of EF issues in adults:

  • Time blindness– being unaware of the passing of time (see below for more information)
  • Trouble remembering names
  • Losing or misplacing everyday items such as purse, wallet, keys, phone
  • Difficulty completing multi-step tasks such as laundry
  • Late for appointments consistently
  • Difficulty breaking tasks down into steps
  • Trouble completing tasks that need done daily such as hygiene, grooming, making the bed, etc.
  • Forgetting to pay bills month after month
  • Consistently forgetting to take out the trash on trash day
  • Misplacing items
  • Unable to multitask

Can executive function be improved in adults?

This can be a difficult question to answer because of the multitude of way’s that an executive functioning difficulties present themselves in adults. There are just so many functional tasks that can be broken down into functional participating.

When taking into consideration the skill areas that make up executive functioning skills, addressing the areas of working memory, attention, organization, prioritization, planning, self-motivation, emotional regulation, problem solving, inhibition…there are many areas to work on when it comes to improving executive functioning skills in adults.

This is to say, however, that it is possible to make habit changes, adaptations, and cognitive, behavioral changes that improve the ability to complete tasks. In the ault with executive functioning disorder, working on small steps and through tools such as lists, organizational changes, executive function coaching, apps, or progress planners, it is possible to make positive changes in the tasks that are impacted by executive functioning issues.

Here are some action plans that can be used to improve executive functioning skills in adults:

  • Use lists
  • Work on one task for the day
  • Use colored markers and a planner to organize how time is spent
  • Create a morning, evening, and study routine
  • Have clear goals 
  • Plan ahead for the day by working off an organizer and checklists
  • Use a time management app to reduce distractions
  • Work on saying “no” to to distractions
  • Manage stress using coping strategies, self-regulation, exercise, sleep, nutrition
  • Exercise regularly
  • Develop working memory strategies and mental flexibility
  • Problem solve
  • Work on self-motivation skills
  • Write a letter to future self as a strategy to visualize a future you would like to achieve
  • Identify strategies to cope and regulate moods better
What is time blindness and how to work on this executive functioning issue in adults.

What is time blindness?

Time blindness refers to the concept of being unaware of time passing.

In most cases, adults and teens (as they develop) are aware of time and have the ability to track its passing. This allows us to move through the morning routine to get out the door on time. It allows us to complete tasks and make it to appointments. It allows us to complete each step of a meal preparation so that dinner is on the table at a reasonable time.

You may recognize time blindness by recognizing that “time got away from you”. We all have felt the impact of time blindness when we say “time flies”.

However, some individuals have a difficult time with time awareness, and “time blindness”.

Time blindness becomes an issue for some individuals when they are consistently late leaving the house for appointment, or when late from returning from a break. Time blindness, when severe, can impact health, social participation, responsibilities, or safety.

Some exaples of time blindness include:

  • Missing appointments
  • Taking too long to get started on a task
  • Taking too long to get ready in the morning
  • Sitting on a phone or device without realizing how much time has passed (This is a BIG one!)
  • Not realizing how much time a task will take to complete (such as meal preparation)
  • Getting “sucked into” a leisure activity such as watching Netflix, playing a game on a device, watching YouTube, or talking with friends

How to Deal with Time Blindness

While time certainly does fly, we can make some simple changes that deal with time blindness that might impact function, safety, and participation in daily tasks and responsibilities.

  1. Use a timer. The timer app on your phone can be used for a simple task or to use during recreational tasks such as watching YouTube videos. When the timer goes off, turn off the videos and move on to what you need to get done.
  2. Keep track of how long things take and write it down in a planner or journal. Refer back to that time tracker when planning a day.
  3. Use a planner with time slots for the day. Mark down appointment times and mark off how much time it takes you to drive to the location, get ready, eat meals. Be sure to add a small cushion time in your time planner for things like gathering a purse, putting on shoes, or gathering your keys and phone.
  4. Use a clock- wear a wrist band so that the time is always on you. There are smart watches available that offer a vibration as a physical notification.
  5. Make the clock app on your phone show up on the screensaver face of your smart phone.
  6. Break a larger task such as laundry or meal prep into smaller tasks.
  7. Create a system. Tasks such as shopping for groceries can fall into the time blindness category. Set up a shopping system and then a putting away the groceries system. Use what works for you.
  8. Use a Pomodoro app to keep track of how long you are working on a particular task. Use the break period, and then get back to the task.

In summary, addressing skill areas such as organizational skills, time-management skills, focus, memory, goal-setting abilities, and general well-being can have a huge impact on adults struggling with executive function challenges.

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.

Executive Function Games

executive function games

These executive function games are specifically selected to improve attention, organization, focus, working memory, and other executive functioning skills. Executive function is a set of cognitive skills that allows us to perform tasks. Use this list of games and toys to help kids build and establish executive functioning skills in the home, school, or community. These are great games to use in therapy to boost executive function for improved independence, safety, and task completion.

Executive function games

These games are fun ways to help kids improve executive function skills.

What is Executive Functioning?



There is much that can be read about executive function.  Essentially, executive functioning skills include the ability to perform a series of skills during functional tasks.  These include attention, impulse control, emotional control, flexible thinking, working memory, self-monitoring, planning and prioritizing, task initiation, and organization.  Looking at this skills set, executive function skills are essential for independence in most tasks.  


For the younger child, executive function abilities present themselves when they perform a multi-step task such as completing the parts of a morning routine.  Parental involvement and the prompting that comes with young kids are more involved.  When a child is able to perform a multi-step process with more independence, they may be able to prepare their cereal, clean up the dishes, brush their teeth, get dressed, gather items needed for the day, and leave the house even when a shoe is hidden under a table, the toothpaste spills, and the dishwasher is too full to add another bowl.


Executive functioning is initiating a task, adjusting to problems, negotiating obstacles, while organizing and prioritizing all of the steps and details.


Children can strengthen executive functioning skills in fun and creative ways.


RELATED READ: Sometimes executive function skills are to blame for sloppy handwriting.

Another related read is this blog post on executive function coaching, which can include executive functioning games as a recommendation for building skills in specific cognitive areas.

Toys to improve executive function

Affiliate links are included.

Take a look at these executive function games. There is something for every level.

This I Never Forget a Face Memory Game can help boost working memory and other executive function skills. The game focuses on details of faces and facial expressions, which can be a great way to focus on details and visual memory skills.  

 Executive function game for helping kids deal with distractions

Distraction is a game that can help boost working memory and recall with fun questions. This game would be perfect for family game night!  

 Visual Brainstorms game is great for improving executive functioning skills

Visual Brainstorms Game can help kids address executive functioning abilities by addressing problem solving, prioritizing, reasoning, logic, and abstract thinking.  

 Executive function game for helping kids with self control

Learning Self-Control in School is a game that addresses planning, attention, and consequences to behaviors.      The game Actions and Consequences can help kids learn that their actions have consequences! It’s a good game for younger kids.  

 What Do I Feel emotions game for kids

What Do I Feel is a game that allows kids to explore emotions and address emotional control as they respond to different scenarios.      

This Memory Chess Game is a fun game to address focus, working memory, and concentration.  It’s got a great fine motor component, too.  

 Original memory game

  The Original Memory Game is the one that has spurred a TON of varieties of matching, memory, and concentration.   

Try these games and toys to improve executive function skills

More activities for executive function

There are so many strategies to address attention in kids and activities that can help address attention needs. One tactic that can be a big help is analyzing precursors to behaviors related to attention and addressing underlying needs. 

The Attention and Sensory Workbook can be a way to do just that. 

The Attention and Sensory Workbook is a free printable resource for parents, teachers, and therapists. It is a printable workbook and includes so much information on the connection between attention and sensory needs. 

Here’s what you can find in the Attention and Sensory Workbook: 

  • Includes information on boosting attention through the senses
  • Discusses how sensory and learning are connected
  • Provides movement and sensory motor activity ideas
  • Includes workbook pages for creating movement and sensory strategies to improve attention

A little more about the Attention and Sensory Workbook: 

Sensory processing is the ability to register, screen, organize, and interpret information from our senses and the environment. This process allows us to filter out some unnecessary information so that we can attend to what is important. Kids with sensory challenges often time have difficulty with attention as a result.

FREE Attention & Sensory Workbook

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    It’s been found that there is a co-morbidity of 40-60% of ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder. This workbook is an actionable guide to help teachers, therapists, and parents to help kids boost attention and focus in the classroom by mastering sensory processing needs. 

    You will find information on the sensory system and how it impacts attention and learning. There are step-by-step strategies for improving focus, and sensory-based tips and tricks that will benefit the whole classroom.

    The workbook provides tactics to address attention and sensory processing as a combined strategy and overall function. There are charts for activities, forms for assessment of impact, workbook pages for accommodations, and sensory strategy forms.
     

    1. Fine Motor Toys 
    2. Gross Motor Toys 
    3. Pencil Grasp Toys 
    4. Toys for Reluctant Writers
    5. Toys for Spatial Awareness
    6. Toys for Visual Tracking 
    7. Toys for Sensory Play 
    8. Bilateral Coordination Toys 
    9. Games for Executive Functioning Skills 
    10. Toys and Tools to Improve Visual Perception
    11. Toys to Help with Scissors Skills 
    12. Toys for Attention and Focus 

    Printable List of Toys for Executive Function

    Want a printable copy of our therapist-recommended toys to support executive functioning skills?

    As therapy professionals, we LOVE to recommend therapy toys that build skills! This toy list is done for you so you don’t need to recreate the wheel.

    Your therapy caseload will love these EXECUTIVE FUNCTION toy recommendations. (There’s space on this handout for you to write in your own toy suggestions, to meet the client’s individual needs, too!)

    Enter your email address into the form below. The OT Toolbox Member’s Club Members can access this handout inside the dashboard, under Educational Handouts. Just be sure to log into your account, first!

    Therapist-Recommended
    EXECUTIVE FUNCTION TOYS HANDOUT

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      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.

      Executive Function Activities (at the Beach!)

      executive function activities

      Executive functioning development is partly learning through experience, and partly trial and error. But did you know you could foster powerful executive function activities through everyday experiences? Here, we’re chatting how to foster executive functioning skills through play…and even at the beach! Add these ideas to improve executive functioning skills this summer.

      Executive function activities don't need to be boring. Use these executive function activities at the beach or while on vacation.

      Heading out of town on vacation to the beach soon? Check out these cool ways to work on executive functioning while you’re there! Once you get back, get to work on these seashell souvenirs!

      Looking for engaging executive functioning activities doesn’t need a trip to the beach. Some of these ideas can be set up in your own backyard. But, if you are going on a vacation or trip this summer, why not use it to foster development of skills through executive functioning activities?

      Executive Functioning Activities: Planning and Prioritizing for a Vacation

      Trips to the beach can be a great opportunity for families to enjoy some time away! They can also be a fun way to integrate some therapy. Sensory processing, motor skills, executive functioning—the options are endless! Sensory processing and motor skills might seem more obvious than executive functioning. Let’s take a deeper look at a few popular activities at the beach and how they can use executive functioning!

      You can start working on executive functioning even before you leave for the trip! These are excellent ways to work on planning and prioritization skills. Especially important in planning for a vacation is the prioritization aspect: when to pack, when to set aside time to wash necessary clothing, making the time to plan out a trip and make reservations can all impact the success of a vacation.

      • Have your child look up the forecast
      • Work on creating a packing list
      • Schedule time to gather needed items
      • Work together to organize vacation items into available bags.

      This can be a great way to get them involved! It also challenges their ability to delay gratification, as they will need to wait until it is time to go, even if that is a few days away. Time management will also be necessary so that packing doesn’t take all day!

      Executive Function Activities: Build Sandcastles

      Kids love building sandcastles! This activity requires a lot of executive functioning skills.

      A child needs to use impulse control so that no one gets sand thrown in their eyes and to avoid the castle from being smashed prior to completion.

      The child also needs to develop a plan and organize their ideas prior to or as they build in order to get the product they would like.

      They need to recall where they put their shovels or buckets, as well as sequence multiple components as they build.

      They also need to problem solve, as the sand might not be their desired consistency! Sandcastles—a great, complex way to work on executive functioning!

      Executive Function Activities: Skipping Stones

      Remember trying to skip stones during calm days on the water? This is another great way to integrate the use of executive functioning skills.

      Stones need to meet specific criteria in order to be the best candidates. Or, this can become an area for problem solving or making predictions (foresight) to see what type of stone might skip best.

      Certainly, there is a significant amount of impulse control needed in order to ensure safety of others in the area! Work on emotional control through contests of who gets their stone the farthest, especially if a child has difficulty losing.

      Don’t have the motor planning or coordination to skip stones? No problem! Toss stones into a pool of water instead.

      Boogie boards/knee surfing Executive Function Activity

      Boogie boarding or knee surfing can be another activity to work on executive functioning in a hidden way! A child needs to plan their motor movements before they take place, as well as consider timing of waves. Safety awareness will also be important, along with persistence, since this can be a challenging activity!

      The beach is a great way to work on a variety of developmental skills, whether sensory processing, motor skills, or executive functioning! Enjoy some of these activities on your upcoming trip and enjoy the benefits of the beach!

      Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

      The Impulse Control Journal…a printable resource for helping kids strategize executive functioning skill development. When saying “calm down” just isn’t enough…

      When a child is easily “triggered” and seems to melt down at any sign of loud noises or excitement…

      When you need help or a starting point to teach kids self-regulation strategies…

      When you are struggling to motivate or redirect a child without causing a meltdown…

      When you’re struggling to help kids explore their emotions, develop self-regulation and coping skills, manage and reflect on their emotions, identify their emotions, and more as they grow…

      Grab the Impulse Control Journal to build organizational strategies, planning, prioritization, habits, and mindset in kids.

      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.

      Improve Executive Functioning Skills this Summer

      improve executive functioning skills this summer

      Summer is coming! And, I have some fun ways to improve executive functioning skills during the summer months, while the kids are on a break from school. Working on executive functioning doesn’t need to involve boring projects, long checklists, or tedious tasks that make the kids run. These executive functioning activities can help to improve the skills that translate to better planning, prioritization, and staying on task during day-to-day functional tasks and when back in the classroom.

      How to Improve Executive Functioning Skills This Summer

      When school ends for the year, we can all have wonderful intentions of a great summer filled with enriching activities to continue our student’s growth. Sometimes, that means having plans that are hard to achieve. Sometimes, that means having absolutely no plans, but then realizing this is a bit too unstructured!

      Whatever camp you are in, a middle ground is a more attainable place to be. Check out these ways to work on executive functioning skills this summer.

      Under each activity idea below, you’ll find strategies to improve executive functioning skills. Use these tips to work on areas like:

      • Planning
      • Prioritization
      • Organization
      • Task Completion
      • Attention
      • Working memory

      Then, when children see success that they’ve made in fun and meaningful tasks, they can carry those skills over to other tasks. Be sure to point out hard work, worthy attempts, and small successes. This auditory input can help to get a point to stick later down the road.

      Get started with some fun summer games. Planning a weekly game night with the family can get this on the calendar and make game playing an event. Think about even adding themes or special fun snacks to the game night events.

      Interest Based Occupations to Work on Executive Functions

      Occupational therapists use meaningful occupations (or the tasks that occupy one’s time) as a therapeutic tool to improve independence, functioning, safety, and meaning in one’s life. The use of motivating interests play a strong role in building essential executive functioning skills, too!

      Use your child’s interests to improve executive functioning that carries over to less preferred activities (like school, homework, and even chores).

      Whatever your child’s leisure interests, there is likely an easy way to integrate executive functioning growth opportunities!

      sports to work on executive functioning skills

      Do you have a budding athlete in your family?

      • Have them set up a tournament for your family or neighborhood: create the brackets (requires planning and organizing, working memory, and initiation)
      • Winning/losing (requires emotional regulation and impulse control)
      • Create the court or field (planning and organizing, organization of materials)

      Art to work on executive functioning skills

      How about your budding artist? There are so many fun summer-themed crafts for all ages!

      • Have your child think flexibly about different materials they can use, especially if you do not have all of the items needed to make a certain masterpiece!
      • Plan projects
      • Set a completion date and write out steps with small goals that need to be achieved before the next step can be accomplished
      • Use a large project such as a mural, pottery, or painting garden planters to expand executive functioning development over weeks or months

      Reading to work on executive functioning skills

      Have a bookworm?

      • A summer book club could be fun! They could create a plan for each club meeting, including creating the invitations and agenda, working on their skills of initiation, time management, planning and organizing, and working memory.
      • Mark off on a calendar when library books need to be returned
      • Schedule time daily for reading and make it relaxing: a book picnic in the yard, taking books to the park, or reading under twinkle lights can be fun and interesting, and all need to be planned out with thinking ahead.

      Chores to Improve Executive Functioning Skills

      Summer is a great time to start integrating family chores without the pressure of starting a new routine in the middle of a school year. Activities like cooking and recycling are approachable for many ages.

      Cooking to work on executive Function

      Find a recipe that works for your family’s ages, needs, and foods. Then, to work on executive function, try some of these tips:

      If cooking is something that you would like to try with kids, be sure to pick out a recipe that is motivating to the child. Here are tons of cooking with kids recipe ideas.

      1. Break up the recipe into the planning stages, the executing stages, and the eating stages!
      2. With each step of the recipe (including preparation and clean-up), assign different family members different jobs, like making the list (while giving them 3 steps to remember and write down for a working memory challenge).
      3. Work on planning and prioritization by estimating when each step will need to start for more complex recipes (time management).
      4. Think about the items and recipe ingredients that are needed as well as steps of the process, including smaller tasks like emptying the sink or dishwasher after you finish cooking (organization of materials).

      Recycling to work on executive function

      Take the opportunity to teach your children about recycling. Here are tips to use recycling as an opportunity to build specific executive functions:

      1. Can they identify what items should go in the garbage versus the recycling (working memory)?
      2. Can they initiate and show impulse control in this task, such as taking the extra steps to the recycling bin, rather than just throwing that can in the garbage?
      3. Use a calendar to mark off the day when recycling materials should be collected and the bin taken to the curb or recycling center.
      4. Use a list to identify materials that can be recycled.

      Summer Learning and Executive Functioning Skills

      While neither a strong academic focus nor a lack of academic focus tends to be the best for any child, there are ways to integrate academics into the more relaxed environment of summer activities.

      Have some sidewalk chalk? Work on sight words (both from previous grade and the soon-to-be grade), letter formation, math problems, you name it!

      If slime is still a trend in your house, find a good recipe and have your child use their executive functioning skills to complete and reflect on the creation. What went well? What did they struggle with or would they change?

      Make a ninja or obstacle course! This takes incredible amounts of executive functioning skills: initiation, shifting, impulse control (“No, Johnny, it probably would not be best to put that plank on top of the playground as a launchpad.”), emotional control/failure tolerance, time management, working memory, planning and organizing, and organization of materials.

      Have fun this summer, stay safe, and keep the growth going!

      Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

      The Impulse Control Journal…a printable resource for helping kids strategize executive functioning skill development. When saying “calm down” just isn’t enough…

      When a child is easily “triggered” and seems to melt down at any sign of loud noises or excitement…

      When you need help or a starting point to teach kids self-regulation strategies…

      When you are struggling to motivate or redirect a child without causing a meltdown…

      When you’re struggling to help kids explore their emotions, develop self-regulation and coping skills, manage and reflect on their emotions, identify their emotions, and more as they grow…

      Grab the Impulse Control Journal to build organizational strategies, planning, prioritization, habits, and mindset in kids.

      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.

      Organization Handouts

      organization handouts

      Occupational therapists work with clients on executive functioning skills that impact functioning in daily tasks, or daily occupations. Sometimes organization handouts are needed to help to educate the team of a child struggling with organizational skills. In this post, you’ll find resources as well as free organization information to use helping individuals with organization.

      Free organization handouts for helping students stay organized

      Organization challenges can look like a lot of different things. In the classroom, it can look like lost homework, messy backpacks, and a disaster of a desk. You can read all about our organization information here on the website. There, you will find strategies, resources, and tools to support organizational skills.

      Try these other organization strategies here on the site, too:

      Organization Handouts

      Studies show that individuals with a small or underdeveloped frontal lobe of the brain tend to have difficulties with organization, poor memory, emotional reactions, and they tend to become overwhelmed by simple tasks. These individuals will have trouble keeping themselves organized in tasks.

      These free handouts are printable tools to identify specific needs. You’ll find information describing how these areas are connected, what organization challenges can look like, and tips to help. You’ll also find classroom sensory motor activities that can help with organizing sensory input in the classroom environment.

      Free Organization Handouts

      To grab these organization handouts, add your email address to the form below.

      Free Organization Handouts

        We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.
        Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

        The Impulse Control Journal…a printable resource for helping kids strategize executive functioning skill development. When saying “calm down” just isn’t enough…

        When a child is easily “triggered” and seems to melt down at any sign of loud noises or excitement…

        When you need help or a starting point to teach kids self-regulation strategies…

        When you are struggling to motivate or redirect a child without causing a meltdown…

        When you’re struggling to help kids explore their emotions, develop self-regulation and coping skills, manage and reflect on their emotions, identify their emotions, and more as they grow…

        Grab the Impulse Control Journal to build organizational strategies, planning, prioritization, habits, and mindset in kids.

        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.

        What are Executive Functioning Skills?

        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

        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.

        One aspect to delivering strategies and tools to support executive function development can be through a coaching model. In fact, executive function coaching is a powerful tool to support individuals in specific needs.

        Development of executive functioning skills

        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.

        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.

        What are executive functioning skills

        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 on prioritization and planning skill development.

        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

        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.

        For resources, tools, and printable activities to improve and strengthen the development of executive functioning skills, check out The Impulse Control Journal.

        Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

        Organization and Attention Challenges Related to Sensory Processing Disorders

        Kids with sensory needs often times have organization difficulties.  Sensory inattention is a real thing! They are distracted by their body’s need for sensory integration and are challenged to focus on tasks at hand due difficulties with inattention. We explain in our resource on sensory processing disorder chart, the various aspects and nuances of sensory processing disorders. You’ll see how different each of us are when it comes to sensory needs and challenges.


        While sensory kids might have attention problems, typically developing kids are also learning to work with the distractions of multi-sensory input to focus on tasks.  You might see visual inattention that causes a child to skip words when copying from a book.  You might see them forget to put their homework folder in their backpack at the end of the school day. It’s kind of like a jumble of beads in where all of the colors are so distracting that it’s hard to pull out the ones that are most important.  Then the beads spill and you’ve got a disorganized mess to deal with on top of everything else that needs to happen in your day. 

        Sensory Processing components and considerations for the disorganized and inattentive child.  This site contains lots of attention and organization strategies for kids with sensory processing disorders from an Occupational Therapist.

        Sensory Inattention

        There are normal everyday distractions that all of us are managing.  I for one am currently distracted by kids, schedules, deadlines, and the need to pull frozen chicken out of the fridge so that we can eat dinner later.  A child with sensory processing disorder or general sensory challenges may be distracted by the input their body craves and the overwhelming input that they are constantly bombarded with. This sensory inattention may be a result of underlying issues going on that distracts from the task at hand.

        When sensory-related inattention is a primary difficulty relating to disorganization in kids, there are ways to work around and help. Check out some of the sensory strategies listed further down in this post.

        Other reasons for being inattentive:

        • Impulsivity
        • Overwhelming and confusing sensory input makes navigating sensory information
        • Trouble staying on a task
        • Trouble identifying priorities
        • Focus on anxiety limits ability to stay on task
        • Rigidity causing difficulty transitioning into new tasks
        • Motor insecurity (fine motor or gross motor, visual motor, sensori-motor) causes trouble getting started on a task.
        • Low frustration tolerance to difficult tasks.  These kids might not try a task to avoid a frustrated meltdown as a compensatory strategy
        These sensory processing disorder treatment strategies can help kids who struggle with sensory inattention or overreaction to sensory input.

        Sensory inattention Strategies

        So, how can a worried parent or involved teacher help kids who are struggling with attention problems and resulting disorganization?  We’ve recently shared tips to help with attention at home and at school.  But what if all of the modifications and adaptations to your child’s day are just not working?

        What if, as a Mom or a Dad, you are at your wit’s end with your child’s poor attention…the behaviors…your child’s seemingly intentional disregard to directions and others around them. Sometimes, there is a reason for these actions.  They aren’t always intentional.  They aren’t always ADHD related. They aren’t always the actions of a “bad kid”.

        Sometimes, there is an underlying reason for disorganization issues.  There is a sensory component. It is sensory inattention that we are talking about.

        A child with sensory processing difficulties might have trouble blocking out lights, noises, and movements of others.  They might drop their pencil and not even realize it.  They might have difficulty with handwriting. They might bump into others in lines at school or bounce off the walls at home.  Do these sound familiar?  

        Sensory HYPERSENSITIVITY

        There are many indications of children who are overly sensitive to typical daily activities. Children with sensory hypersensitivity over-respond to sensory input. They may have an acute or overly sensitive response to input.

        • Overreact to bright lights and loud noises.
        • Demonstrate meltdowns when overwhelmed
        • Complain about itchy tags or clothing seams, including the seam along the toes in socks.  Refuse to wear certain textures, and complain that they are too rough or scratchy.
        • Difficulty with sensing how much force they need to apply in tasks; they might press too hard when writing, rip the paper when erasing, or slam down objects.
        • Trouble knowing where their body is in relation to other objects or people.
        • Overly distracted by noises in the classroom.
        • Appears clumsy.
        • Avoid hugs and cuddling even with family members.
        • Overly fearful of movement including swings, slides, and merry-go-rounds.
        • Bump into other students in school lines, or crashes into objects.
        • Tendency to bolt or run away when they’re overwhelmed to get away from stressors or fears of unfamiliar situations.

        Sensory Hyposensitivity

        There are also indications of children who are under-responsive to sensory stimulation and seek out more sensory input. Indications of hyposensitivity occur in children who do not seem to notice sensory input. They may seek out sensory input in order to gain sensory input that they need in order to organize or regulate. Children that flap their hands, bite, pinch, bolt, or seem to have a very high tolerance for pain, spinning, or other movement may have sensory hyposensitivities.

        • Constantly touch people or textures.
        • Loves active play.
        • Crave fast, spinning and/or intense movement.
        • Enjoys heavy deep pressure like tight bear hugs.
        • Cannot tolerate smells. Or, smells everything.
        • Disregard or no understanding of personal space.
        • Swing, spin, jump, run, crash
        • Chew everything…clothing, pencils, toys, grass, non-edible materials
        • Very high tolerance for pain.
        • Very fidgety and unable to sit still, especially when the child is expected to sit still.
        • Seeks out jumping, bumping and crashing activities.
        • Loves jumping on furniture and trampolines.
        • Self-stimulation behaviors (flapping, bolting, chewing, pressing on eyelids, rocking, humming, lining things up, tapping on things, etc.)
        • Loves playground equipment like swings, merry-go-rounds and slides.

        It’s easy to understand how a child with either a low or a high tolerance to sensory stimulation can show inattention to focused tasks.  There is so much information coming at them at once and they are unable to filter out what is unnecessary while attending to a directions like “Get your homework out of your back pack” or “Brush your teeth, your hair, and put on your shoes.”  How can they possibly keep themselves organized in tasks?

        While no two children are alike, there are many sensory processing treatments that can help with attention and organization.  Movement activities, core strengthening, and sensory integration therapy can help with attention in kids.  In fact, sensory integration treatment interventions “may result in positive outcomes in sensory-motor skills and motor planning; socialization, attention, and behavioral regulation; reading-related skills; participation in active play; and achievement of individualized goals.” (From here.) 

        Sensory Processing Disorder Treatment


        Some of our favorite ways to engage the sensory systems in sensory integration activities are: 

        Try using these techniques to help your child sort out all of the information, and just like those beads that are all over the floor?  Create beautiful moments in your day!

        Sensory Processing components and considerations for the disorganized and inattentive child.  This site contains lots of attention and organization strategies for kids with sensory processing disorders from an Occupational Therapist.

        Be sure to stop by and see recommendations for Attention difficulties at home and at school, part of a recent Organization series that we’ve shared:

        Tips to Help your Sensory Kid Get Organized at School

        Tips to Help your Sensory Kid Get Organized at Home

        More tools for addressing attention needs in kids

        There are so many strategies to address attention in kids and activities that can help address attention needs. One tactic that can be a big help is analyzing precursors to behaviors related to attention and addressing underlying needs. 

        The Attention and Sensory Workbook can be a way to do just that. 

        The Attention and Sensory Workbook is a free printable resource for parents, teachers, and therapists. It is a printable workbook and includes so much information on the connection between attention and sensory needs. 

        Here’s what you can find in the Attention and Sensory Workbook: 

        • Includes information on boosting attention through the senses
        • Discusses how sensory and learning are connected
        • Provides movement and sensory motor activity ideas
        • Includes workbook pages for creating movement and sensory strategies to improve attention

        A little more about the Attention and Sensory Workbook: 

        Sensory processing is the ability to register, screen, organize, and interpret information from our senses and the environment. This process allows us to filter out some unnecessary information so that we can attend to what is important. Kids with sensory challenges often time have difficulty with attention as a result.

        It’s been found that there is a co-morbidity of 40-60% of ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder. This workbook is an actionable guide to help teachers, therapists, and parents to help kids boost attention and focus in the classroom by mastering sensory processing needs. 

        You will find information on the sensory system and how it impacts attention and learning. There are step-by-step strategies for improving focus, and sensory-based tips and tricks that will benefit the whole classroom.

        The workbook provides tactics to address attention and sensory processing as a combined strategy and overall function. There are charts for activities, forms for assessment of impact, workbook pages for accommodations, and sensory strategy forms.
          Grab the Attention and Sensory Workbook by clicking HERE or on the image below.    

        Attention and sensory workbook activities for improving attention in kids

        FREE Attention & Sensory Workbook

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          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.