Executive Functions

“If Only Little Robots Could Keep My Child On Track!”

When “I forgot” became her daughter’s mantra in school, a mom takes things into her own hands.

A note on a desk. Reminders are crucial for kids with ADHD and impaired executive function.

“Mom, you’re going to be mad at me. I got an F on a science test.”


“I forgot to study.”

“Did you look at your assignment binder?”

“I forgot. And I forgot there was a test!”

Lee had, as ADHD experts describe it, a limited working memory capacity, which made it difficult for her to be independent in school. She tried her best to remember, but on days like today, it felt like we were going nowhere. This year, we had tried everything from colorful Post-its in her folders to scotch-taped notes to the top of her binder. Lee wrote reminders in bold marker on the back of her hand and tried mnemonic tricks. But if she was distracted in class, if she was overwhelmed or bored, those reminders flew out the window. “I forgot” was slowly becoming her mantra.

[Free Download: How to Create and Maintain Your Child’s IEP]

That night, I was working in the kitchen when Dr. Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist who specializes in brain research, was giving a lecture on public television. He described a person with ADHD as an intelligent, creative, spontaneous, out-of-the-box thinker who thrives when people keep her on track.

That got me thinking. What about a school for students with ADHD, complete with little robots to keep them on track? Lee would need one at the school gate, saying, “Turn in your homework!” one at her locker reminding her, “Take the science packet out of your binder!” one in her binder, commanding, “Now!” and a pencil that would flash red lights, indicating, “Time’s up!”

On serious note, I wondered how many prompts her teachers gave her to write down her homework or to turn it in? When I asked Lee, it was one or none. The following week, at her annual IEP meeting, I put on my Dr. Amen hat and asked for better tracking by the teachers. I told the team that Lee wasn’t using bad working memory as an excuse. She was frustrated by her inability to remember and needed help. Much to my surprise, the IEP team readily agreed. They added the following accommodation: “three prompts from a teacher during a class session for Lee to turn in homework.”

[Turning It In Should Be the Easy Part of Homework, Right?]

Relieved, I left the IEP meeting and stopped dead in my tracks. I was the one who forgot this time. I hadn’t asked her teachers to track that Lee wrote down her assignment. A couple of days later, I mentioned it to her case manager, and she said we could add it to her accommodations.

I was feeling pretty good when the weekend rolled around. Then I asked Lee if she had homework. “Oh yeah, can you help me with a paragraph? Well, not really a paragraph. That was due like a week ago. Now I need to do the whole essay.”

If only we had a little robot that could remind her of the essay topic.