Executive dysfunction and teachers

we-aint-borntypical asked: Sorry if this is late, but how do I tell my teachers about my executive dysfunction and how it affects my ability to do assignments?

realsocialskills said:

I think the most important thing you can do is accept that the problem is real, and that it’s ok to need help.

It can be hard to accept that executive dysfunction is real. It can be very tempting to feel like if we just try harder or wait long enough, it will somehow work out. And some percentage of the time that does work — which can make it seems like it will *always* work if we try hard enough. But it doesn’t work that way, and expecting it to causes a lot of problems.

Executive dysfunction means that sometimes there are insurmountable barriers to doing things completely independently. Sometimes this can happen with things that our culture says are easy and that you may not have heard of anyone having trouble with. It can be hard to come to terms with that. It gets easier with practice.

More directly about managing relationships with teachers, I’ve found two things helpful: I try to err heavily on the side of asking for help as soon as I’m feeling stuck, and I also try to select instructors based on understanding and/or cognitive compatibility.

If you’re facing an assignment and can’t figure out how to make progress on it, it’s good to err on the side of asking for help immediately. This can be hard to do, especially if you feel ashamed or like you don’t have a good reason. It’s actually ok though, and it gets easier with practice.

It’s normal to need help sometimes, even if the reasons you need it are unusual. All teachers have students who need help. Good teachers understand this and consider needing help normal. (Not all teachers are good, but many are). A lot of teachers care about helping their students, and it’s usually a lot easier for them to do that if you ask sooner rather than later. (It also saves you the time you’d waste trying to do something impossible through sheer force of will.)

If you can, it helps to explain in concrete terms what you are having trouble with, and what you think would help. (If you don’t know what would help, the concrete request might be “Can we meet to talk about this assignment?”). I think that it usually helps to err on the side of talking about concrete problems rather than abstract concepts like executive dysfunction.

For instance, I think “I’m having trouble getting started on this assignment. Could you help me narrow down my topic?” is usually more effective than “Executive dysfunction makes this assignment hard for me, what should I do?”. That said, if the latter is the only way you can ask for help in a particular situation, don’t wait until you know a better way. It’s ok to ask for help imperfectly; it’s ok to need help even if you’re not sure what help you need.

Not all teachers will be good at helping you. Some won’t be willing, some some won’t know how. Some will be inconsistent. But a good percentage of teachers *are* skilled at helping. If you have a choice about who your teachers are, it’s good to err on the side of picking teachers who are good at helping.

Also, some teachers are going to be inherently more cognitively compatible with you than others. Different teachers do instruction and assessment differently. If you have a choice, it can be good to err on the side of taking classes with teachers who give assignments that are more reliably possible for you.

Aside from attributes of teachers — asking for help effectively is a set of skills. One of those skills is the emotional skill of feeling ok about the fact that you need help. Another is assessing what’s going on and figuring out what your needs are. Another is expressing it to teachers in a way that they can understand and act on readily. And there are other skills I’m not sure how to explain. No one is born knowing how to do these things, and they all get easier with practice.

tl;dr Executive dysfunction makes school complicated. Taking classes with teachers who teach in a way that makes cognitive sense to you can help, when you have a choice. It can be hard to ask for help, and hard to feel ok about needing help. That’s a set of skills, and it gets a lot easier with practice.

Attention ≠ respect

Respect and attention get conflated a lot. They’re not actually the same thing.

When someone isn’t paying attention, it’s often assumed that they are either intentionally avoiding listening, or refusing to put any intentional effort into listening. And that, if they just respected the speaker more, they’d be paying attention.

Sometimes that’s true. And sometimes, the reason someone isn’t paying attention has nothing to do with respect. Often, it’s a neurological, psychological, or psychiatric issue. Or the result of pain or fatigue.

For instance, respecting a speaker and wanting to listen to them doesn’t cure ADHD. Cognitive attention problems caused by ADHD have to actually be accommodated and worked around. (For instance, taking medication, learning organization techniques, using captions to focus attention, collaborative note-taking, etc.)

Addressing values only helps when the problem is values. When the problem is disability; you have to address and accommodate disability in order to make progress. No amount of education in respectful attitudes will help if respect isn’t the issue.

tl;dr Please stop assuming that failure to pay attention is always a sign of contempt. Sometimes it’s just a sign of an attention problem.

Facebook overload

Hey there. I have ADHD, and at times my sensory processing isn’t exactly up to par. My school’s department uses a Facebook account to update the students on important events. There are alternative ways (email, website), but they are often less updated. I don’t have a Facebook account- I tried years ago and it was too much stimulation to take. Is there anyone well versed in Facebook that can provide a guide to create a Facebook account that provides the least amount of stimulation as possible?
realsocialskills said:
I think probably the best thing would be to make a Facebook account that you only use to follow event notifications.
  • If you don’t friend anyone or join other groups, then you won’t end up with a big overwhelming news feed.
  • It might be better to use a fake name and picture so that people don’t find you and friend you and expect you to pay attention to them.
  • If you do need to use your real name and friend people back, you can hide them in your news feed and unsubscribe to notifications from them.
  • You can set it so that you get notifications in your email about group activity, and then you won’t have to log in very often

If the problem is that the website is too overloading rather than that there is too much information, you might try using the mobile version.

  • The iPhone/iPad app is more streamlined and less visually noisy than the desktop version
  • If you go to instead of, you get a very simplified mobile version of the site even on a desktop computer. Some people find that easier to manage.

Do any of y'all have suggestions?

Collaborative note-taking

Sometimes, collaborative note-taking can make classes or meetings better.

This how it works:

  • Make a google doc
  • Share it with a friend in the class/meeting
  • Take notes together in the same document
  • And comment on what the other is writing
  • (This only works if you both have laptops and internet access in class)

Here’s some examples of how this can be helpful:

It can make it easier to pay attention:

  • For many people, conversations are much easier to pay attention to than lectures
  • One reason is that if you’re interacting, it’s easier to *notice* whether you’re paying attention
  • Doing collaborative note-taking adds an interactive layer to the lecture, which can make it easier to pay attention

When you miss things, you can catch each other up, eg:

  • “I didn’t catch that. Is he talking about cats or dogs?”
  • “I think dogs, but it’s hard to tell. It’s tangential to the main point about lions.”

It can also be easier to write down complicated statements if you have two versions to compare in the moment.

When you don’t understand, you can ask each other for help without having to interrupt and get the teacher’s attention, eg:

  • “Is he really saying that hamsters can fly?”
  • “No, he’s saying that he once edited wikipedia to make it claim that, and it took a week for anyone to notice.”


  • “What page are we on?”
  • “Page 56 near the bottom.”

Sometimes it can also make it easier to ask the teacher questions.

  • “I’d like to ask him whether rainbows can happen at night”
  • “So, ask him!”
  • *verbally* “Can rainbows happen at night?”
  • (I’m not sure why this works for me, but it does. It’s far easier for me to ask questions verbally when I’ve run them by another student/coworker in text.)

It can also make terrible meetings or classes more bearable, for instance:

  • “Is he really suggesting that we buy 500 pounds of ham?”
  • “It seems like he is. Oh dear. Should we say something?”
  • *more notes about what’s going on, not just conversation

You can fluidly move between taking notes directly, and talking to one another about what’s going on.

Some of this is possible to do by taking notes in separate files and using a chat program to talk to each other, but it doesn’t work as well because:

  • It’s more distracting since you have to switch between windows and modes to talk in different ways. So there’s a switching barrier to paying attention to your notes file.
  • When your conversation is *in* the notes, it’s easier to pay attention to the notes
  • If someone is watching you, it looks just like taking notes usually looks. If you use a chat program, it looks like you’re goofing off and not paying attention.

This is not a good strategy for everyone or every situation, but when it works, it works *really* well.


Social skills for autonomous people: making text more readable


Having aspergers and and ADD has made communicating with people very difficult, especially in relationships. I’ve found that writing helps but reading is hard because I get lost in blocks of words and unable to focus. Are there things that can…

When I’m having difficulty reading text I highlight small chunks, like a single line, as I go. It helps me determine what I’m currently reading, I can see what I already read since it’s before the highlighted words, and it doesn’t require multiple programs. I picked up this habit from a friend with the same problems.

making text more readable

Having aspergers and and ADD has made communicating with people very difficult, especially in relationships. I’ve found that writing helps but reading is hard because I get lost in blocks of words and unable to focus. Are there things that can be done to help with communication and reading replies etc?
Sometimes it helps to paste the text into a document and then use either white space or color coding to help you keep track.
Here’s how I do color coding:
  • I paste the text I want to read into Word
  • I turn all the text blue
  • As I read the text, I turn it black again
  • That enables me to keep track of which parts I have and haven’t read

Formatting the text can also help. This is how I do it with emails:

  • I hit the reply button so that I can edit the text
  • Then I put in paragraph breaks where I think there are conceptual breaks
  • This means I can move around on the page more easily when I want to re-read a particular part

Anonymous asked realsocialskills:

I have ADHD and I need to rock and twitch my hands to concentrate. Is it appropriate to call it stimming?  

I think that’s perfectly fine. That’s a really common reason autistic people stim, too. There’s a lot of overlap between ADHD traits and autistic traits.

I think that it’s actually good if we use the same words to describe things that are the same or similar. A lot of groups cross-disability have far more in common than we realize, and I think we could all benefit a lot from sharing concepts and coping mechanisms.

That said, calling it stimming might lead to some awkward situations. It’s a term mostly used by autistic folks. Sometimes when you (in my view accurately) refer to it as stimming, that might cause people to think you’re autistic. That’s something you should be prepared for if you want to start using words that are mostly used to describe autism.