Executive Functions

3 Classroom Behaviors Rooted in ADHD Executive Dysfunction

Punishing disruptive behaviors in the classroom that stem from ADHD will do little to change behavior. Luckily, teaching executive function skills to these students can help minimize blurting out in class, talking too much, and leaving assigned seats.

Talking too much. Leaving an assigned seat. Blurting out in class. These disruptive behaviors — commonly associated with ADHD — are often misperceived as intentional misbehavior. In reality, they are clues pointing to a child’s delayed brain maturity and executive dysfunction.

Disciplining or punishing this disruptive behavior will do very little; to influence change, parents and educators must look deeper to solve the executive function deficits at behaviors’ core. Below are common school behaviors rooted in inhibition and impulsivity problems, and strategies for each. Keep in mind that younger students with ADHD may lack the language skills to understand instructions or to express their emotions. They may become easily frustrated and scream, cry, bite, or hit others.

Inhibition Challenge #1: Talking Too Much or Blurting Out in Class

  • Post and regularly review a Voice Level Chart: outside voice, presentation voice, partner & group work, whisper, silent (for classwork).
  • Remind students that “work time” is “silent time.”
  • Teach students to take a quick water break and stretch if they feel tempted to talk during “silent time,” or quietly move away from a classmate who disrupts them.
  • Take a picture of the student raising her hand and waiting for help. Tape the picture to her desk as a reminder.
  • Give the student a small color-coded flip chart that indicates three levels of work status:
    • green – “I’m working fine”
    • yellow – “I need help but I can keep working”
    • red – “I need help and I can’t keep working.”
  • Teach students to write down comments or questions, especially during ”silent time.”

[Download: The Big List of ADHD School Resources from ADDitude]

Inhibition Challenge #2: Leaving an Assigned Seat or Fidgeting

  • Seat a fidgety student at the end of the row for more mobility and allow them to stand, kneel, or sit on their knees at the desk.
  • Assign two workstations so the student can move desks for different subjects.
  • Take a snapshot of the student sitting at their desk or tape it in a visible spot. Discuss and practice the desired behavior.

Inhibition Challenge #3: Losing Focus and Finding Distractions

  • Increase activity levels and student interactions in lessons, and give students 5-minute brain breaks between sessions.
  • Use a variety of teaching strategies — lecture, worksheet, white board work, and team collaboration or game play — within each lesson.
  • Pre-record a 10- to 12-minute lecture so students can work at their own pace with ear buds. Group students to discuss answers and complete worksheets together.

Inhibition at School: Next Steps

Schoolhouse Blocks: Foundational Executive Functions

Access more resources from ADDitude’s Schoolhouse Blocks: Foundational Executive Functions series exploring common learning challenges and strategies to sharpen core EFs at school.


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