where wildly different is perfectly normal
2e Tuesday: Executive Function issues
2e Tuesday: Executive Function issues

2e Tuesday: Executive Function issues

Notebook Paper Background*AKA The brain’s CEO is out having a three-martini lunch*

I’m a little wound up today. The day is zipping by, I still have to finish prepping for Thanksgiving, the house is a disaster (no, really, it needs a vacuum something fierce and I can’t do that while Tom is working), in a few minutes I’m out of the house for the rest of the day, I’m in a less than stellar mood, I’m trying to get A to finish up a last few things homeschool-wise before the long weekend, and I thought today would be a good time to temporarily take him off his ADHD meds. I have a very good reason for this…well, a couple. He’s not gaining weight, and a food-centric holiday is a good time to remove the appetite-suppressant. The other reason is a real PITA. He started developing a mild tic…well, a couple. We were just keeping an eye on them, to make sure they didn’t get worse. I hadn’t noticed any difference, but yesterday A brought up how much one of them was bothering him. Ok, if it’s bothering him, it’s an issue and the meds can just stay in the cabinet. So today is a meds-less day.

This is the first homeschool day that he’s gone sans Adderall, and boy howdy have I noticed a difference. Again, it could be my mood or pre-holiday craziness, but I’m about to wring his scrawny little neck. ADHD meds do not fix executive function issues, but they obscure them a bit. Think of a gauzy semi-transparent curtain. Yes, it covers the window, but you can still everything on the other side of it with little effort. The curtain has been pulled today, and all the executive function issues that were hazy before are now standing before me in technicolor.

So what are executive function issues, exactly? The best definition I’ve found is from the book Smart but Scattered by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare*.

These are the fundamental brain-based skills required to execute tasks: getting organized, planning, initiating work, staying on task, controlling impulses, regulating emotions, being adaptable and resilient–just about everything a child needs to negotiate the typical demands of childhood in school, home, and with friends.

And to this I say, “So you’ve met my oldest son then?”

Our entire day to this point has been me directing him from one task to the next, even with a blackboard next to our desk listing the three things he needs to do this afternoon. At one point I saw through time: I sent him downstairs to check on his laundry, and when he came wandering up some time later, our conversation went a little like this:

Me: “Sweetie, was your laundry done?”
A: “Hmmm…wha’?”
Me: “Did you restart the dryer?”
A: “Huh?”
Me: “Why did I ask you to go downstairs?”
A: “I can’t…I dunno.”
Me: (sweetbabyjesuswithadryersheet) “When you went downstairs, what did you do? Did you go into the laundry room?”
A: “Uh-huh.”
Me: “Did you stick your hands in the dryer? Were the clothes dry?”
A: “Uh-huh.”
Me: (I don’t get paid enough for this crap) “So where are they? I asked you to bring them back up if they were dry.”
A: “Still in the dryer.”
Me: “Ok, let’s try this again from the top. Go to the laundry room. Open the dryer. Put the clothes in a basket. Take them to your room.”
A: “Ok.”

Just like the olden days, when I would send him to put on shoes and find him 20 minutes later, reading a book naked in his room. He got the clothes upstairs, which is good. He has yet to re-emerge from the room, and is up there reading a book. I’m assuming he is clothed, but who knows.

If I could pick one thing to improve, it would be A’s executive function skills. He and I have talked about it, have talked about the prefrontal cortex (where executive function is housed in the brain), have talked about how it’s slow to develop in some kids. I don’t understand what it’s like in his head; I swear I came out of the womb with my executive function skills fully developed and making lists. So it’s hard for me to relate and help him. It makes homeschooling more of a challenge, though it was way worse when he was in school. At this point last year he was so wiped by holding it together all day that he’d come home an anxiety-ridden shell and still have homework to struggle through; this is tons better.

I know we’re not alone with this challenge. So many twice-exceptional kids have trouble with executive function; ever thought (or been told) this question? If he’s so smart, why can’t he <insert simple process here>? I’m guilty of that, usually when I’ve had an intense discussion on the nature of the universe followed by a conversation similar to the one above. That is then followed by a mental ::facepalm:: and more redirection.

So what to do. Right now my answer is two-pronged: do nothing so he can eat all weekend (and get the remaining meds out of his system), and read the Smart but Scattered book. There’s also another on my shelf: Late, Lost, and Unprepared by Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Laurie Dietzel. I’ll read that one as well. Continue to redirect and redirect and God help me redirect. Dig patience from my very core. From what I’ve researched, tics are not uncommon with Adderall, so we may pull him from meds sooner rather than later, and increasing support for his executive function difficulties.

Never a dull moment here; just when I think he have a handle on the enigma that is our 2e kid, the universe laughs and gives us all a wedgie.


*Just noticed that there’s a Smart But Scattered Teens book slated for a mid-January release. I must get this.


  1. Luciana

    You have just described most of my days, only my kid gets mad at me when I remind him to do things. On top of his executive function issues and ADHD, my son is also very oppositional.
    We homeschool too, because when he was in public school he was the most academically advanced and the worst behaving kid in his class. Plus he was sick a lot and he never ate his lunch at school.

Whaddya think?

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