Punished for Poor Executive Function

Being a parent of a child with learning or behaviour struggles can be distressing when your child’s needs are not seen, understood or met. We generally know our children exceptionally well and are our childs’ best advocates. We usually create a close working relationship with our child’s school. We share their strengths and weaknesses, check in regularly, offer our kids lots of support to do homework, and take them to extra support like Speech, Occupational Therapies or engaging in our programs nightly. We do so much more for our divergent children than parents do for their neurotypical children. I can say this as I have five daughters and have walked this exact path with two of them.

By stepping through the below scenario, we will outline steps you can take to help resolve this situation.

This little man has a few diagnoses, Autism and Dyspraxia. Autism (for him) results in reduced visual and auditory processing, poor executive functions and sometimes a very rigid outlook on right and wrong. He has dyspraxia which impacts his stamina and coordination – gross and fine. He finds organising his body difficult.

The problem began, as far as we can tell (as he actually can’t work out what he did wrong – he is very aware and analyses situations), that he took too long to get organised.

What does ‘getting organised’ look like?
Was it packing up or getting ready for a task that was the problem?

Let’s unpack this for a sec. There are so many steps involved in getting organised or packing up.

Just stop and think about getting dressed in the morning.
Not only do you have to remove lots of clothes, but you have to coordinate your body and brain to do each and every step.
For some of us, this is very hard. We must locate the items and know in what order we need to do the tasks. We need to block out distractions as well.
Putting socks on is also physically exhausting when you have low muscle tone.
There is a lot of resistance from the sock, lots of bending and pulling and when you have poor motor skills, this can be outright overwhelming. And this is just a pair of socks we are wrestling with….

Getting back to our little man, having executive function struggles, means he finds it hard to organise himself. He finds the steps in tasks hard to identify and gets lost in the process.

Questions he always asks himself are: What do I have to do next?
Do I have to put this away, or am I meant to get out a different book or line up –
What do I need to do with my body to achieve this?

He’s not sure sometimes, so he might look at what others are doing or stare out the window to get his thoughts ‘in order’.
Mechanically think through the steps to determine what he is meant to be doing. Is this wrong or disobedient?

Sometimes I think it is interpreted as such. 🙁

When we are stressed, the Amygdala and the Hippocampus – the areas of the brain that help you process emotion, information and memory shut down. Just think of a stressful situation when you were a bit nervous – is your thinking a bit clunky? Clunky thinking happens when we are under stress and impedes our decision-making and the ability to undertake tasks. It will inhibit access to memory and the ability to reason. We then don’t efficiently store the information in our brains and most often can’t find the information when we need it next time. Clunky thinking develops very quickly for children and adults with disabilities.

As a result of his lack of organisation, his teacher kept him in for recess and lunch, and he missed PE that day! The main worry here is the teacher not understanding his needs and then discriminating against him for having a disability.

A child with poor muscle tone needs lots of breaks to help build muscle and to reduce fatigue.

It is part of a teacher’s job to help a child to self-regulate. Teachers can help children self-regulate (no matter how old they are) to organise themselves – physically or academically in tasks. School is a learning place and should be a safe place where they are supported to achieve as their peers do.

Ideas to support a child with Autism and Dyspraxia include:
short stints of writing
teaching them how to type
offer craft activities to build fine motor skills
use voice to text
have visual sequencing of tasks on the board in writing and/or with pictures if a non-reader
give one section of a task at a time
check they are on task
give one instruction at a time
assist them in packing up items the same way each time to help develop memory
provide fat pencils or grips on pencils
lined paper with wider lines or grid paper
fill in the missing word to test comprehension, then write lengthy responses
get a writing buddy
brain breaks – movement breaks to help with concentration and fatigue
accept dot points for written work
provide info in dot points
during PE, provide lots of visual steps and assist the child if needed to plan their movements.

Now the steps we suggest to help remediate this situation are:
Send the teacher your report- via email for a delivery record – for your child – if you have one.
2. Send the Principal and the Learning Support Coordinator a copy of your report via email.
3. Request a meeting with the class teacher and Learning Support Coordinator in that email. Discuss the accommodations you want to be put in place in the classroom (from the report). This information is to be included in the Learning Plan or One Plan, the school, must create for your Child. (helpful tip is to highlight key points of your reports and present them at the meeting or give them a list of your non-negotiables and then have those that you would like but are not hung up over on there as well).
4. The learning plan is a legal document and needs to be signed by you and the contents of which need to be implemented in the classroom.
5. The meeting should be minuted, and minutes should be sent to you to be signed. Only do so if they are true and correct.
6. Request a meeting to check in with the teacher in a couple of months to see how your child is receiving the new accommodations and if there need to be any changes.
7. Even if you don’t have a report, the school can put accommodations in place. You don’t need a report for schools to meet the needs of your child. Schools can make or provide ‘reasonable adjustments’ for students where necessary to enable their access and participation.
a. The Australian Education Act 2013 (the Act) outlines how schools receive Commonwealth funding and spend the funding appropriately. Students are divided into categories, and different amounts of funding are applied. 17 section 36 Aust Ed Act
b. The Disability Standards highlight how schools should implement adjustments. Legislation
c. The NCCD funding model is an annual collection of information about Australian school students with disability. The NCCD enables schools, education authorities and governments to understand better the needs of students with disability and how they can be best supported at school. Children with a diagnosis get an automatic allocation of funding, and students without can still get support. Still, the evidence must be collected and provided to the NCCD – provide your teacher with a list of things that help in the home and that you think will work well at school. (schools can’t pressure parents to get diagnoses and reports for funding, especially if those parents don’t have the funds to do so.) The NCCD is a far fairer model.

If you still have struggles with the school:
Dot point out all the areas/incidents you are upset about and offer solutions you know your child would be happy with. Trouble organising? Needs GENTLE step-by-step help, visual schedules, a buddy to help keep on track, extra time to get this done, not be rushed etc.
Use your Learning Plan or One Plan and share the incidents and how the teacher has not implemented the Plan. Include all documentation to the Principal and the Learning Support Coordinator.
The school council is a good escalation point -, especially in a private school.
Share this with the Regional Office for DECD if you don’t feel your principal isn’t responding how you would like. Or the Independent Schools Association.
Minister for Education and the Minister for Disability.


At any point, TDT are available to help you advocate for yourself or your child in an education setting.

The Disability Discrimination Act in 1992 (DDA) is unlawful to discriminate against someone – here, we are talking about education. The disabilities can be temporary and permanent, intellectual, sensory, neurological, learning and psychosocial disabilities, diseases or illness, physical disfigurement, medical conditionals, and work-related injuries.

Disability Standards 2005 https://www.education.gov.au/disability-standards-education-2005/resources/fact-sheet-2-disability-standards-education-2005

For the Department of Education Supporting Students/Special Needs
Also, email education.dpp@sa.gov.au. For disability policy and programs.

Disclaimer: This advice from TDT is general and are suggestions. Our posts are not to be altered or used without our permission. Copyright 2021.

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