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Executive Functioning (EF) and Achievement in Kids with ADHD

Understanding a child’s ability to learn, control their behavior, and have healthy relationships is important! Read on to learn about what researchers found when they looked at EF skills and achievement in children who have ADHD.

This article is part of our weekly series, Executive Function Tips for Families.

Before We Begin:

This article explains the study “The Association of Executive Functioning With Academic, Behavior, and Social Performance Ratings in Children With ADHD.” Tamm L, Loren REA, Peugh J, Ciesielski HA. J Learn Disabil. 2021 Mar;54(2):124-138. doi: 10.1177/0022219420961338. Epub 2020 Sep 30. PMID: 32996376. This study looked at the EF skills of kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and how well they do in school. To find this information, they tested the academic, social, and behavioral skills of a group of students with ADHD.

Key Takeaways

Strong EF skills are “must-haves” for a child to thrive in academic pursuits, social interactions, and behavioral development. While ADHD can make it difficult for a child to read, write, do math, have relationships, and control behavior, building strong EF skills can help the child overcome some of these obstacles!

Study Findings

Let’s take a look at the questions researchers asked and what they found regarding children who have been diagnosed with ADHD.

Are EF skills linked to a child’s performance in their schoolwork?

Researchers wondered how a child who does not have strong EF skills would do in reading, writing, and math.

They found that. . . 

  • A child who had poor EF skills also struggled in the classroom with reading, writing, and math.
  • The more severe a child’s ADHD symptoms were, the more the child struggled with learning and understanding in the classroom. These same children also showed low EF skills.

Are EF skills linked to a child’s behavior and relationships at school?

Researchers wanted to know if there is a relationship between EF skills and how a child behaves and interacts with others at school. They looked at both interactions with teachers and other students.

They found that. . . 

  • a child who had poor EF skills struggled with forming relationships with peers and teachers.
  • a child’s classroom behavior problems are more related to ADHD behaviors than low EF skills.

Researchers noted that children with ADHD and lower EF skills should be watched carefully for academic issues. They would benefit from targeted interventions like tutoring and behavioral support.


Actionable Steps For Parents

Researchers noted a link between ADHD, low EF skills, and classroom performance. While many children do not have ADHD, it is still important to strengthen a child’s EF skills. Let’s look at some things that can be done at home!

  • Executive function and ADHD often go hand in hand. Children with ADHD may struggle with EF skills, such as organizing tasks, remembering instructions, staying focused, and completing assignments. While these children may not have problems with EF skills in all situations, they may struggle with using several of these skills at the same time.
    • Read: Parent Newsletter—This newsletter discusses how low EF skills could be warning signs of ADHD in some children and what can be done to help them.
  • We know that EF skills, such as self-regulation, can help a child’s behavior and relationships at school.
    • Play: Did you know that pretend play is so much more than just having fun? Studies show that children who play and pretend to be different characters have more academic success and stronger social skills.
    • Read: Learn more about self-regulation skills that can be worked on at home. Skills that are strengthened at home should then carry over to school! 
  • The study found that targeted interventions can help build skills, including EF skills!
    • Watch: Take a look at some of the courses available in the Reflection Sciences’ Intervention Guide.
    • Play: Check out these four storybook activities that will strengthen your child’s flexible thinking and short-term memory skills!



Parents and teachers want all children to be successful at school, with their schoolwork, relationships, and behavior. No matter what challenges a child may have, strong EF skills can help them succeed!