Challenges in executive functions are a common cause of learning troubles in school. Creating school routines is difficult without the ability to concentrate and focus on given tasks.

Even though challenges in executive functions are common for children, they look somewhat different between girls and boys. This might cause confusion for school staff members in recognizing which students need added support in the classroom.

For many children, remedial actions are crucial for school success. Ensuring a positive learning experience requires providing support for whoever needs it. 

Boys are more often hyperactive

Boys with difficulties staying focused in the classroom are often physically restless or agitated. This is easy to spot as fidgeting with hands and feet, or as unnecessary running around the classroom mid-tasks.

Restlessness is increased when the child’s focus is distracted. Any sound or other interruption will snatch the child’s focus and he abandons his tasks to take a closer look at what is going on.

Uneasiness in boys is easy to approach with a “boys will be boys” attitude. However, it is important to evaluate if the behaviour is caused by pressure from school tasks. Performance stress and challenges in executive functions can many times add to inappropriate behaviour.

Girls show more inattentiveness

Challenges in executive function also often coincide with inattentiveness. This is especially common among girls in school.

An inattentive child will also experience a lack of focus, but will not display hyperactivity. Instead, the pupil might drift in thought, making it hard to get a grasp of the tasks at hand.

Children with inattentive tendencies often try their best to succeed with the tasks along with their peers. But challenges in executive function will cause the pupil to underperform.

The resulting stress and worry can cause increased depression or emotional reactions. The child might also feel like an outsider and spend more time alone. Often, the pupil will also hide the distress in school and the behaviour change is only visible at home.

Due to the less obvious symptoms of challenges in executive functions, girls are more frequently left outside of the remedial actions provided by the school. Also, ADHD, which often coincides with executive function troubles, is underdiagnosed among girls.

Supporting executive functions for boys and girls

The various forms of challenges in executive functions are good to account for when planning remedial actions in the classroom. The difference between children is hard to spot, especially in a bigger class where the more subtle challenges often stay hidden.

Hyperactive children will stand out in contrast to the quieter inattentive children. Thus, it can be a good idea to provide remedial actions to any child who wants to try learning with extra support. This way no one is left outside of the available help.

Recognizing challenges in executive functions in all children is a prerequisite for providing equal learning opportunities. Considering the pupils as individuals and attending to everyone’s needs paves the road to school success.

The blog has been written by Felix Erkinheimo