ADHD EF Conference Executive Function

Understanding Executive Function and ADHD

This post is part of a series that highlights themes and takeaways from ResearchILD’s 37th Annual Executive Function Conference: Executive Function & Social-Emotional Learning: Promoting Resilience, Stress Management, and Academic Success. 

ResearchILD’s 37th Annual Executive Function Conference provided a space for important discussions about using executive function strategies to reduce stress and promote social-emotional learning. One subject that was discussed by multiple speakers was ADHD — how it relates to executive function and how to understand it through a strength-based approach.

Smart but Stuck 

On day one of the conference, Dr. Thomas E. Brown(link opens in new tab/window) shared insights into ADHD and how executive function impairments affect the ability of people with ADHD to do certain activities. Dr. Brown is a clinical professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of California, Riverside and was a past clinical faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine.

Drawing from his years working with and talking to people who have ADHD, Dr. Brown emphasized that every single person with ADHD has activities that they are able to focus on as well as other activities on which they aren’t able to focus at all.

Dr. Brown also stressed the role that emotions play in ADHD. Each person has different emotions that they are particularly vulnerable to. He compared emotions to chocolate chip cookies – they are often blended, layered, or mixed. Context is important, whether it is where you are or who you are with. Sometimes emotions take up too much space, and such intensity can lead to a reduction in sensitivity to other information.

How to Win Races with a Runaway Brain

On the second day of the conference, Dr. Edward Hallowell(link opens in new tab/window) pushed for a new way of thinking and talking about ADHD. “Depending on how you manage it, it can be either an asset or a liability in your life… it can also make your life.”

As the founder of the Hallowell ADHD Centers and past faculty member of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Hallowell has 40+ years of clinical experience working with people with ADHD. He stressed the importance of connection in learning. The beauty of connection is that it is fun, free, and in infinite supply.

Through his talk, Dr. Hallowell shared ways that parents of students with ADHD can help their children. For example, people with ADHD crave stimulation and cannot tolerate boredom because contentment is too bland. Dr. Hallowell thus encourages students to find a creative outlet. For him, it was writing. Through his lived experiences as someone who grew up with ADHD and has family members who have ADHD, Dr. Hallowell emphasized that anyone with ADHD can live a fulfilling life; it is all about the perspective and how you approach it.

  • Andrea Foo, SMARTS Intern

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ADHD Dyslexia Learning Differences Student Perspective

Fixing a Broken Model, Part 2

This student-authored post is part of a series that highlights student perspectives around learning and executive function in the classroom. You can read part 1 of this post here

An article written in the National Library of Medicine says that when dyslexic students are misunderstood, it “leads to a struggle with the teacher, with the parents and with themselves. The result can be a child deemed to be ‘incorrigible,’ a judgment which can further traumatize the individual.” As a student, I’ve always been annoyed by these misconceptions. Throughout my education, my annoyance led to frustration, my frustration led to anger, and my anger led to despair.

A Broken Model

The current educational system is not working, as it is not acknowledging everybody’s differences. The education system needs to be modernized; schools have been using the same model for decades. Most traditional school practices are outdated, not preparing students for modern life. In the words of Sir Kenneth Robinson, an educator known for working to revitalize the education system, “reforming is no use anymore, because that is simply reforming a broken model.”


Schools need to work with their students to foster individualism. They need to create a place where students are able to explore what they want to learn in a way that they can learn it. Everybody has different strengths and weaknesses, so why are we torturing people by penalizing them for having weaknesses?

One of the easiest ways teachers can create a productive classroom environment is to engage with students and ask them how they feel. Making sure students feel comfortable interacting with their teacher and advocating for themselves is crucial. But it’s even more important that the teacher uses that information to help a student. If a student is struggling and has a solution, their teachers need to do everything in their power to make sure the student gets what they need.

A Path Forward

It’s becoming accepted that teachers must address all differences to create an optimal classroom environment. To truly welcome diversity, schools must accept diversity of thought. The goal of educational systems should be to create a world where students’ differences aren’t stigmatized but accepted; where it’s understood that everybody’s brain is just as unique as their physical appearance. We all have two eyes, two ears, one nose, and one mouth—and we look unique.

To truly create change, schools need to acknowledge their shortcomings and try to fix them by listening to student voices. By doing this, schools can help students’ individuality become their strength.

  • C. Solomon, Student Contributor

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ADHD Dyslexia Student Perspective

Fixing a Broken Model, Part 1

This student-authored post is part of a series that highlights student perspectives around learning and executive function in the classroom. 

The majority of people have a physical appearance that is unique. Yet on an anatomical level, the components of each face are the same. Your eyes, for example, are in the middle of your face, about a nose width long and a nose width apart. The distance from your chin to the middle of your lip is the same as the distance from the middle of your lip to the corner of your eye.

Yet it is the small differences that shape your likeness, making you unique. The human brain is the same — even though we’re all human, there are a variety of factors that make everyone’s brains different.

In school, people tend to be defined by a few characteristics, and as someone with dyslexia and ADHD, my differences have always seemed to define me. I feel these differences every day.

I started to feel the impact of my dyslexia in first grade, before I was even diagnosed. Like many students with learning differences, I was misunderstood at school, and similar situations led me to feel annoyed, confused, and fearful. All of these emotions came from the message that school was instilling in me, that something was wrong with me.

In my experience, schools ignore, suppress, and neglect the things that they don’t understand, and that leads to students being neglected. When teachers don’t work to understand their students’ differences and how they learn best, it can leave students with the belief that they are inadequate and they will ever be able to do what is expected of them. That mix of emotions can be excruciating.

Thirty-three percent of educators believe learning disabilities are just laziness. This harmful stereotype is a perfect example of how the education system needs to change. The bottom line is in order to create a healthy learning environment for students with learning disabilities, these students need to be fully understood and that starts with education. It starts with ending the belief that learning disabilities are laziness or something that can be easily controlled.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this post. 

  • C. Solomon, Student Contributor

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

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ADHD EF Conference Social-Emotional Learning

Smart but Stuck: Executive Function, Attention, and Emotion

At ResearchILD’s 37th Annual Executive Function Conference this November, we are honored to feature a session on “Smart but Stuck: Executive Function, Attention, and Emotion” from Thomas E. Brown, Ph.D., Director of Brown Clinic for Attention and Related Disorders in Manhattan Beach, California, and Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at the University of California Riverside School of Medicine.

About Dr. Brown

Dr. Brown is a clinical psychologist who received his Ph.D. from Yale University. He specializes in assessment and treatment of high-IQ children, adolescents, and adults with ADHD and related problems. He opened the Brown Clinic for Attention and Related Disorders in Manhattan Beach, California, in June of 2017. In addition to presenting lectures and workshops, Dr. Brown has published more than 30 scientific articles in professional journals and is the author of the Brown Executive Function/Attention Rating Scales. He is also the author and editor of many books.

Emotions and ADHD

What role do emotions play in students with ADHD? Many students who are affected by ADHD-related executive function impairments enjoy a number of activities or hobbies where they do not display the same difficulty exercising certain executive function processes. Positive and negative emotions deeply affect a person’s ability to initiate tasks, sustain their attention, shift their interest, and engage their working memory processes.

At the 37th Annual Executive Function Conference, Dr. Brown will describe the critical role of emotions in ADHD and will provide information about assessment and interventions to help teachers and parents understand and effectively address these difficulties in students of all ages. 

Learn More

You can learn more about Dr. Brown and his work:

Looking to build your executive function toolkit? Join us for the Executive Function Summer Summit (July 26, July 28, August 2, and August 4) and the SMARTS Executive Function Summer Workshop (August 9, August 11). All summer professional development opportunities are available online via Zoom and through recorded sessions.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

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ADHD focus Procrastination

The Perfectionism-Procrastination Paradox

When students hand in assignments close to a deadline, it can be easy to label them as lazy, forgetful, or unmotivated. Surprisingly, research has shown that many procrastinators are perfectionists (link opens in new tab/window). For these students, the desire to get every element just right can be paralyzing and prevent them from getting started, despite their best intentions. Teaching executive function strategies can help “perfectionist-procrastinators” reframe their thinking and develop a realistic understanding of time. 

Hard Habits to Break

Breaking the perfectionism-procrastination cycle can be difficult. If the assignment doesn’t go well, there is a built-in excuse of lack of time: “Oh, I would have done better if I had more time.” If the assignment goes well, there is little incentive for students to change their ways.

All or Nothing

Many perfectionist-procrastinators engage in all-or-nothing thinking patterns. Take, for example, a multi-step project or research paper. Getting started can be daunting when students view the project as an overwhelming whole instead of something that they can break down into actionable parts. By teaching the Purposeful Highlighting strategy (from Unit 3 of SMARTS Elementary), you can help students learn to break down multi-step instructions into a numbered checklist. Purposeful Highlighting is a way for students to break down directions and identify multiple perspectives when reading or taking notes. This strategy helps students highlight effectively and avoid over-highlighting (“yellow page syndrome”).

Reestablish Reasonable Expectations

Perfectionist-procrastinators often struggle to initiate tasks when they are worried about making a mistake. Before students start their work, encourage them to reflect on the root causes of their perfectionism and procrastination tendencies. Fear and negative self-perceptions often go hand-in-hand with perfectionism and procrastination. Encourage self-compassion as students strive to change their studying and learning behaviors. Remind students that they can always revise their work and ideas along the way, so the first attempt doesn’t have to be perfect. 

Understanding Time

Another element that complicates task initiation is a tenuous understanding of time. Students tend to overestimate how long tasks will take, especially undesirable or difficult tasks. When it comes to getting started, encourage students to choose one task and estimate how long they think the task will take. Once students set a timer and get started, they might realize that they can get more done in a shorter period of time than they originally thought. 

What are your best tips for beating procrastination?   

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

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ADHD Stress

Student Perspective: How to Make Summer Work Less Stressful

How can teachers make summer work less stressful for their students? This student-authored post is part of a series that highlights student perspectives around learning and executive function in the classroom. 

As the end of summer approaches, I have started to stress about my summer work. Therefore, I have three suggestions for teachers to make summer work more manageable for students.

Reconsider Assigning Work

My first suggestion is not to assign any work. I know many teachers will roll their eyes at this suggestion, but it’s valid. Once students get into high school, they have more on their plates, even in the summertime. Many students have jobs, work on preparing for college, take extra classes, or complete any number of other activities. Adding more academic work to their plate makes students feel as though they have no break at all. As a student with dyslexia and ADHD, it’s tough for me; it takes me double the time of my classmates to complete most assignments.

Avoid Testing on Summer Material

Another way to make work less stressful is to avoid testing on summer material. Summer academic work is assigned to prevent backslide, to teach students new things, or help them spark an interest in something. It should by no means feel like a punishment. 

Teachers also need to consider that students’ priorities change in the summer. They don’t have as much time, so many students have to pick and choose what to do first. So when they get to school, not all the material will be fresh in their minds. All of this is especially true when applied to students with learning differences. For example, I have a different experience reading a book than many of my classmates. It can be challenging when tested on a book, especially when I started reading it three months ago.

Be Clear About the Purpose of Summer Work

My final suggestion to mitigate summer stress is to tell your students ahead of time what the work will be used to accomplish. As I suggested, summer work should be just for the experience and not graded. But if you think it’s crucial to assign summer work, tell your students ahead of time what their end goal should be. For example, if you want your students to write a paper on a summer reading book, tell them ahead of time, so they can prioritize all of their work.

Will you be teaching SMARTS next year? Join us for the SMARTS Executive Function Summer Workshop (August 10th, August 12th, August 17th, and August 19th). If you are interested in hearing from equity-minded educators from across the country, join us for the 36th Annual Executive Function Conference. Learn more and register today.

  • C. Solomon, Student Contributor

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Student Perspective: Creating a Safe Environment for Students with Learning Differences

Creating a safe classroom environment for students with learning differences can have a lasting positive impact on their educational experiences. This post is part of a series that highlights student perspectives around learning and executive function in the classroom. 

One critical aspect of every student’s learning experience is the classroom environment created by the teacher. Every teacher has a different classroom environment, and some may be a better fit for certain students. In my post, I will highlight the factors that I find critical in creating a positive and inclusive classroom environment for students with learning differences. 

Encourage Positive Self-Talk

Within a classroom, it is vital to encourage positivity. In many classrooms, teachers either encourage or don’t discourage people with executive function disorders to be demeaning to themselves. This can lead to other students in the class feeling that it is acceptable to be demeaning to these students as well.

There were many students in my English class with dyslexia and ADHD. My teacher created an environment where these students constantly called themselves ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid.’ Then students without learning differences in the class called someone ‘dumb’ because they could not perform a ‘normal’ English task like spelling words. Other students called a boy with ADHD highly disruptive because he forgot to take his medication. When I expressed to my teacher that I felt uncomfortable with my classmates calling each other ‘dumb’ because of their neurodiverse identities, she dismissed my claim and said it is just normal teenage behavior.

Discourage Negative Talk about Intelligence

As a teacher, if you want to foster a healthy classroom environment, you must try to discourage negative talk about students’ intelligence. It harms the students in the class who have learning differences for two reasons. First, it can make them think they are stupid for having a learning difference. Second, a negative classroom cannot foster learning.

Teachers need to help neurotypical students realize it’s not ok to make fun of the kids with learning differences. When you want to discourage this type of negative behavior, it isn’t effective to tell students to stop within the classroom. If you do, students with learning differences may have more negative thoughts about themselves. Instead, you should talk to the student one-on-one outside of class time to try to find out why they feel they are dumb and help them realize that they are just as intelligent as everyone else in their classes. 

To read more student perspectives, check out the Real-Life Experiences with Remote Learning series. If you are interested in building your executive function toolkit, join us for the Executive Function Summer Summit (July 27th, July 29th, August 3rd, and August 5th).

  • C. Solomon, Student Contributor

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ADHD Dyslexia Executive Function Stress Studying

Student Perspective: The Need to Preview Material

Incorporating executive function strategies into your curriculum can make a big difference for students. This post is part of a series that highlights student perspectives around learning and executive function in the classroom. 

As a learner, it’s hard for me to finish assignments or do them correctly if I don’t know why I’m doing them. It is important for teachers to take time to preview material and explain the purpose behind assignments. Here are a couple of examples.

Preview Upcoming Topics

At the beginning of each trimester, it is beneficial to go over what the class will be studying. Many teachers try to do this, but in my experience, they don’t go in-depth enough. I would encourage teachers to give students more background information.

For instance, if you’re teaching about World War II in history class, tell students many aspects of what they will be studying instead of just telling them they will be covering World War II. Doing this helps students understand the scope of the material they will be covering in class and slowly eases them in, making them feel they have more control in the classroom. It’s also good for students to know what to expect once they get to the topic because it will seem less overwhelming than just jumping right in.

Preview Large Projects

It is also helpful to preview material before a large project. When introducing a new project to a class, it is essential to explain to students why the project is important. If students do not understand the reasoning behind the project, they may feel that the project is not relevant to them.

Another important step is to outline what the project should look like. While it may be difficult to present guidelines for more open-ended projects, it is vital for people who struggle with executive function.

Before you formally teach a topic or introduce new material, make sure your students have a brief understanding of what lies ahead so they won’t feel overwhelmed when they get to that topic. Previewing material can ensure that students are better prepared to complete their work and turn in higher-quality assignments.

To read more student perspectives, check out the Real-Life Experiences with Remote Learning series.

  • C. Solomon, Student Contributor

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

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ADHD focus

Fidgeting and Executive Function

Students love to fidget, right? From fidget spinners to Rubik’s cubes to doodling, there is almost an entire industry dedicated to keeping students’ hands busy. But fidgeting is more than that; fidgeting might also help support executive function.

Fidgeting and the Brain

A recent study, led by Justin Fernandez at Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI), is reinforcing the benefits of fidgeting. While the study looked at the brains of people with ADHD specifically, these findings have important implications for acknowledging how students actually learn, especially when it comes to executive function.

The study found that, when the subjects were allowed to fidget, the blood flow to the prefrontal cortex increased. The prefrontal cortex is the seat of your brain’s executive function processes. We all know that executive function is essential for successful learning, so the importance of fidgeting must be recognized.

Viewed in this light, fidgeting deserves another look. Seeing students doodling or tapping away with their pencil is often interpreted as being off task. However, if fidgeting is a way to power up the brain, then perhaps fidgeting is adaptive, a part of the problem-solving process.

Fidgets for All

While many students with ADHD have access to fidgets in their 504 plans, all students can benefit from well-timed fidgeting. The need to fidget is universal, especially during remote or hybrid learning. From a movement break or a quick doodle to fidget toys like the Fidgi Pen, there are many ways to let your students fidget. (Does note-taking count as a fidget? We like to think so.)

Use Fidgets Productively

Of course, a fidget free-for-all can be pretty distracting (some teachers might still have a few confiscated fidget spinners in their desk drawer). Take time to teach students how to use fidgets productively. Talk about the best time to fidget or what kinds of activities are less distracting to others. Help students see fidgeting as a productive step in completing their work instead of something to hide when the teacher looks your way.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

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ADHD Uncategorized

15 Relatable ADHD Memes to Brighten Your Day

ADHD makes life hard for students, teachers, parents, everyone!

While executive function strategies can help students succeed, sometimes students with ADHD are going to have a tough time. That’s when it is important to let off steam and remember that others face similar ADHD challenges. Here are some of our favorite funny ADHD memes that will hopefully help you, or someone you know, have a good laugh and know that they are not alone.
















We hope that these make you laugh! What are your favorite ADHD memes? Let us know in the comments.

  • Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager

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