The Challenge of Executive Function:
What’s the Antidote?

“Students Greatest Need Is Executive Function!”

This year, in the SOAR® Learning Laboratories, we challenged ourselves to discover “What do students in special education need the most?” We interviewed special education educators from across the country, expecting to make a “top ten” list we could narrow down to the “top three things” students need. However, we were stunned when one response came up over and over again… It was overwhelmingly, “Executive function is the greatest need!”

So, What Is “Executive Function?”

You hear the term often, but do you really know what it means? Executive function is like the “conductor” of the brain; it directs what gets done, and when. Technically, “executive function” is managed by the prefrontal cortex of the brain (or, Front Brain). This section of the brain manages our thoughts and actions through an elaborate network of neuron connections.

In my video, The ADHD Circuit® (below), I use a simple model of string lights to represent neuron connections in the brain. The simplicity, however, is what makes the model so powerful:

This video illustrates how “executive function” works in the brain. Share this video with your students, their parents, and your peers!

The brain’s process for completing any task can be compared to a string of party lights. You know the kind… lots of little, colored light bulbs on a single wire. Each bulb represents a neuron connection.

Even a simple task requires coordination of several parts of the brain; every step involves a new part of the brain, which adds another connection to the process. However, an ADHD brain is chronically short of two chemicals that make these connections possible: dopamine and norepinephrine.

This means that connections can fail without warning. If you’ve seen a string of party lights go out, you can guess what happens next; if a connection is missed, the circuit fails… and the lights go out! Or, if a connection is missed in the brain, the circuit fails… and the person loses track of what they were doing!

ADHD vs Autism vs Executive Function

What’s the difference? Not much, really. ADHD is simply a lack of neuron connections limited to the Front Brain (prefrontal cortex). Autism is the same lack of neuron connections, but the breakdown is located in several parts of the brain, including the Front Brain. “Executive function” is the umbrella term used for all of the self-management skills governed by the Front Brain.

Can there be one antidote for ADHD, Autism, and Executive Function challenges?

Yes! Since all three are related to the same breakdown of neuron connections, you can actually treat all three challenges with the same solution. That solution is reducing the number of connections on the brain.

How do you do that? With study skills. (Also known as “soft skills.”)

Not just any “study skills,” but study skills precisely designed to reduce strain on the brain.  These skills should be focused on efficiency: how to complete the desired goal in the fewest number of steps.

SOAR® Learning & Soft Skills has conducted years of research into “learning efficiency” and designed a curriculum to be as effective and “brain-efficient” as possible. That means students with ADHD, Autism, and executive function challenges can employ simple learning strategies and skills to become strong learners, without overtaxing neuron connections in the brain.

In fact, a team of school psychologists in Prince George County, VA discovered that 50% of their special education caseloads could be solved through the teaching of effective study skills!

Nearly every aspect of learning can employ efficient study skills. SOAR® Learning & Soft Skills teaches them all:

  • Organization
  • Time-management
  • Reading textbooks and nonfiction
  • Goal-setting
  • Writing
  • Note-taking
  • Setting goals
  • Listening and speaking
  • And much more!

SOAR® Learning & Soft Skills also address motivation and confidence! We start with students’ strengths, to help build critical intrinsic motivation. Building authentic confidence and motivation, along with teaching efficient study skills, creates a powerfully effective way to manage ADHD, Autism, and executive function challenges. In fact when using our curriculum, we guarantee a 0.5 point increase in GPA, but our real results indicate we average an increase in GPA of over 1 full point.

What about students that don’t seem to have executive function challenges? The secret hiding in plain sight is that efficient study skills are really best-practices in education. These skills not only help students struggling with executive function, they help all students! In fact, many elite private schools use the very same SOAR® Learning & Soft Skills curriculum to maximize the results in their schools.

To learn more about the SOAR® Learning and Soft Skills curriculum, request a FREE Digital Review Copy in the black box at the top of this page. You can see the efficiency for yourself.

To our students’ success,

Susan Kruger Signature



Susan Kruger Winter, M.Ed.
Author of the worldwide best-selling program, SOAR® Learning & Soft Skills
Founder of
Former Struggling Student

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