Middle school is often a time of significant change for children—academically, socially, and emotionally. For kids with ADHD or executive function deficits, navigating these changes can be particularly challenging. This comprehensive guide aims to shed light on the specific struggles that these children may encounter, from difficulty focusing in class to challenges in socialization and time management. Through a multi-faceted approach that includes educational strategies, therapeutic interventions, and alternative treatments, parents and educators can gain a clearer understanding of executive function and how it impacts a child’s performance in middle school. This guide offers actionable insights and practical tools to support children in developing the vital executive function skills they need for school success and beyond.

Three middle school students struggling with Executive Functions

Middle school is a critical time for students as they navigate the challenges of being a developing child and face increased academic demands. For middle school students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), these challenges can become even more daunting.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a considerable number of children in the United States and can significantly impact their executive functioning skills and can lead to learning disabilities.  While ADHD can affect people of all ages, it can be particularly challenging for middle school students who are dealing with the transition from childhood to adolescence. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore therapeutic interventions, educational strategies, and alternative treatments to support middle school students with ADHD/learning disabilities and improve their executive functioning.

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Ways ADHD Affects a Child’s Performance

Difficulty Focusing in Class

One of the most common challenges that middle school students with ADHD face is difficulty focusing in class. The middle school years are when academic expectations increase, and students are expected to sit through longer lectures, take notes, and complete more complex assignments. Students with ADHD may struggle to stay focused for extended periods, which can make it difficult to keep up with the coursework.

Difficulty Staying Organized

Another challenge that middle school students with ADHD face is difficulty staying organized. Middle school students are expected to keep track of multiple classes, assignments, and deadlines, which can be overwhelming for anyone, let alone someone with ADHD. Students with ADHD may struggle to keep their school supplies organized and may frequently lose important papers or forget to turn in assignments.

Difficulty Completing Assignments

Middle school students with ADHD may also struggle to complete assignments on time. This is often due to a combination of difficulty staying focused and difficulty staying organized. Students with ADHD may have trouble breaking larger assignments into manageable pieces, prioritizing their work, and sticking to a schedule.

Difficulty Managing Time

Another challenge that middle school students with ADHD face is difficulty managing their time. Students with ADHD may struggle to estimate how long assignments will take, which can lead to procrastination and last-minute cramming. They may also struggle to balance their schoolwork with extracurricular activities, socializing, and other responsibilities.

Difficulty Socializing

Finally, middle school students with ADHD may struggle with socializing. Adolescence is a time when social skills become increasingly important, but students with ADHD may have difficulty reading social cues, interpreting body language, and picking up on the nuances of social interactions. This can make it challenging for them to form friendships and navigate social situations.

Weakness in Planning and Prioritizing

Middle school students with ADHD often struggle with executive function skills compared to typically developing children with planning and prioritizing tasks, leading to disorganized work habits and missed deadlines. Here are some strategies to address this challenge:

Difficulties managing time

An illustration of a woman struggling to manage time while sitting on top of an hourglass.

Students with ADHD may struggle due to executive functioning issues, to estimate how long tasks will take, leading to poor time management.

Working Memory Problems

Working memory is crucial for holding and manipulating information in mind. Middle school students with ADHD may struggle with this, due to weak executive function it affects their ability to follow instructions and complete tasks.

Many of these challenges exist due to executive function deficits. Parents who understand the connection between ADHD and EF skills are better able to address the difficulties their child is facing.

12 Components of Executive Function

Executive function skills encompass various components, including:

  • Attention: The ability to sustain focus and resist distractions.
  • Working Memory: Holding and manipulating information in mind to complete tasks.
  • Planning: Formulating strategies and organizing steps to achieve goals.
  • Organization: Keeping track of materials and managing time effectively.
  • Problem solving: Creatively and effectively finding ways to solve a problem
  • Emotional Regulation: Managing emotions and maintaining appropriate behavior.
  • Self-Monitoring: Reflecting on one’s actions and making adjustments when necessary.
  • Task Initiation: Starting tasks without procrastination or undue delay.
  • Goal Setting: Setting clear objectives and working towards achieving them.
  • Flexibility: Adapting to changing situations and shifting strategies when needed.
  • Metacognition: Understanding one’s own thinking processes and learning strategies.
  • Response Inhibition: Suppressing impulsive reactions and considering consequences.

It’s important to note that not all children with ADHD will have the same level of executive function skill delays, and some might develop compensatory strategies or coping mechanisms. Additionally, early intervention, support, and appropriate accommodations can significantly help children with ADHD develop and strengthen their executive function skills.

The Connection Between Executive Function Skills and School Success

The focus to improve EF skills is important as there is a strong link to academic achievement and overall school success. Middle school students with well-developed executive functions are better equipped to attend better to verbal and written instructions, turn in work on time- with less stress, and perform to their personal ability than those without strong EF skills.

Knowing a child with ADHD will struggle to do all of these things, until those EF skills are learned and acquired, it is important to explore the various support services and interventions available both in and out of the school setting.

How to Treat Executive Dysfunction for a Child in Middle School

Executive functioning refers to a set of cognitive skills that help individuals plan, organize, initiate, and sustain goal-directed behaviors. For students with ADHD, executive dysfunction can pose significant barriers to academic success and overall well-being. Effective treatments for lacking executive functioning skills typically involve a combination of behavioral interventions, medication, and support.

Behavioral Interventions: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most widely used therapeutic executive functioning interventions to address executive function disorder. CBT helps individuals identify negative thought patterns, improve time management, and develop organizational strategies.

Medication: In some cases, healthcare professionals may recommend medication to manage ADHD symptoms and improve weak executive function skills. Common medications include stimulants like methylphenidate and amphetamine-based drugs, which can enhance focus and attention.

Support: Collaborating with teachers, parents, and school counselors is essential in providing appropriate support for middle school students with ADHD. Creating individualized education plans (IEPs) or 504 plans can ensure that students receive the accommodations and resources they need to succeed academically.

Often these in-school supports include some of the following strategies;

Break Tasks into Smaller Steps

Encourage students to break down larger assignments into manageable steps. Providing them with checklists can help them visualize their progress and stay on track.

Use Visual Aids

Visual aids, such as color-coded calendars or sticky notes, can help students prioritize tasks and manage their time effectively.

Teach Time Management Techniques

Teaching students management techniques, such as the Pomodoro Technique, can help them stay focused during short study intervals and take regular breaks while working on long term assignments.

Use Timers and Alarms

Encourage students to use timers or set alarms to remind them of upcoming deadlines or to signal when it’s time to switch tasks.

Create a Daily Routine

Establishing a consistent daily routine, particularly for homework, can help students develop a sense of structure and predictability, aiding in time management.

Encourage Note-Taking

Encourage students to take thorough notes during lectures, as the act of writing can aid in memory retention.

Exploring Therapeutic Interventions for Executive Function

A girl exploring therapeutic interventions with executive function while sitting on top of a book.

Various therapeutic interventions can be employed to improve executive function skills in middle school students with ADHD. Let’s delve into some of these interventions:

Different Board Games Address Different Skill Sets

Board games can be valuable tools for developing executive functioning skills in a fun and engaging manner. Games like Chess can improve planning, strategic thinking, sustained attention, problem solving, and impulse control, while Scrabble can enhance flexible thinking, attention to detail, and word recall.

Therapy Activities to Develop Executive Functions

Therapeutic activities, such as role-playing scenarios, can help students practice self regulation skills. Group activities that involve planning and collaboration can also enhance organizational skills and teamwork.

Explore Different Ways of Learning

Middle school students with ADHD may benefit from exploring various learning techniques that cater to their individual strengths. For instance, incorporating visual aids, create checklists, physical exercise, interactive lessons, and hands-on activities can boost engagement and retention.

Executive Functioning Assessment from Effective Effort Consulting

Alternative Treatments for Executive Function Disorder

A mother performing alternative treatments for executive function disorder of her child.

In addition to traditional interventions, alternative treatments can complement the management of executive function disorder in middle school students with ADHD. Some alternative approaches include:

Mindfulness Practices

Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, can help students executive function skills in many ways like reducing stress, enhancing self-awareness, and improving focus.

Exercise and Physical Activity

Regular physical activity has been shown to positively influence executive function, including executive functioning skills. Encouraging students to engage in sports or physical activities can be beneficial.


Neurofeedback is a biofeedback technique that monitors brain activity and provides real-time feedback. It can help individuals gain better control over their brain function and improve attention and self-regulation.

No matter which route you and your child take to support, teach, and work to improve their executive functioning skills, the journey requires time, patience, and understanding.

ADHD can present significant challenges for middle school students. These challenges can impact academic performance, social relationships, and overall well-being. However, with the right support, students with ADHD can learn strategies to improve their executive functions, improve emotional control, and not repeat past mistakes, allowing them to thrive in middle school and beyond. Parents, teachers, and school counselors can all play a role in supporting these students by providing structure, accommodations, and resources to help them succeed.