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  • Writer's picture Ginny Johnson

What does an executive functioning coach do for the college-bound student?

Updated: Jul 4, 2022

First let’s define some terms: Like what is executive functioning, what population has problems with executive functioning, what is ADHD, and what is a learning difference.

Wow, that is a lot to cover so let’s get started.


All of these categories fall under the broader umbrella of diverse learners. Everyone processes information differently. Our brains are as unique to us as our fingerprints. Executive function is a set of mental processes that we use every day to learn, work, and manage life.

When students have executive functioning disorder it is hard to focus, follow directions, stay organized and deal with emotions, to mention a few. Executive function disorders are found most notably in students with learning differences, ADHD, and ASD (autism spectrum disorder) It is frequently noted as the main characteristic of ADHD.

As you can see from the illustration of an ADHD brain while there are many exciting and creative things going on the ADHD student is bogged down with daydreaming, disorganization, distractibility, hyperactivity, and difficulty sleeping. ADHD is a disorder of self-regulation.

ADHD and executive functioning disorder go hand in hand as both affect working memory, cognitive flexibility (the ability to switch mental gears), and inhibition or impulse control. In short, the student with ADHD has problems with the self-management system of the brain.

So how does that differ from a student with a learning difference? ADHD is a performance deficit whereas a learning difference is a skill deficit. In other words, a student with ADHD has the skills necessary to perform a task, but are just unable to use it effectively. They know what they need to do they just can’t get activated to get the job done. This frequently leads to bouts of anxiety as the student wants to accomplish a task but does not know when and how to do it. These students are typically very bright which adds to the anxiety and frustration.

To compound the situation many students also have a learning difference such as dyslexia. As you can see the student with ADHD has a lot going on. Not only are they very bright but because of the executive functioning disorder they can’t get their lives organized and this can lead to anxiety and depression. No wonder they have problems sleeping and staying focused.

When looking for an executive functioning coach it is important that they are knowledgeable in:

  • Executive functioning, ADHD, and learning differences

  • Be able to interpret and explain 504 plans, IEPs (individual education plans), and evaluation reports such as a neuro-psych evaluation so they can understand how the student is wired and what supports they are currently receiving

  • Help the student discover what is the best tool for them to use for organization

  • Support them in learning new strategies

  • Be an expert in college programs that support students with an executive functioning disorder, ADHD, and learning differences

  • Work on self-advocacy both in high school and how it would look in college

  • Walk with the student through every step of the college process

  • Be calm and accepting as they learn new strategies and accomplish success

Executive functioning disorder, ADHD, and learning differences are complex and can be frustrating for both student and parent during the college process. Always work with someone that understands not only the diagnosis but also the emotional roller-coaster that your student is experiencing.

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