Check out our variety of resources to learn more about executive function coaching and the latest updates from Beyond BookSmart

Schedule a Free Discovery Call

Featured Posts

Making College Affordable: 5 Tips for Securing Scholarships

College planning can be both exciting and stressful. While students and parents ...

The Best Strategy for Building Strong Student-Teacher Relationships

When I had to move when I was in college, I did what most people do: I asked my ...

Freshman Social Jitters? 5 Tips to Making Friends in College

As August nears its end and a new school year waits around the corner, a certain...

A Personalized Process for Sustainable Success

Read about our two levels of coaching, then take our
quick assessment to see which level is likely to be the best fit for your student.

Jan 16, 2015

In my work supporting gifted students, I see many high achieving children who make it to middle school, and Academic_Strengths_can_mask_EF_weaknessessometimes beyond, without exerting significant effort.  Their cognitive abilities or remarkable memories put them in the highest reading and math groups, earn them advanced scores on standardized tests, and make completing homework packets a breeze. They often excel in afterschool activities as well, winning accolades from club leaders and top prizes in a wide spectrum of competitions. These same children might have Executive Function deficits such as cluttered desks, not being able to find their papers or materials, and perhaps they do all of their homework in a rush the night before it is due. But, who cares? They’re fine, right? Don’t mess with success. 

In their book To be Gifted & Learning Disabled, Drs. Susan Baum and Steven V. Owen identify another group of gifted students: those whose Executive Function deficits or other learning disabilities mask their high intellectual ability. The intellectual talents of these children enable them compensate for their challenges and perform at grade level.

According to Baum and Owen: “These students are difficult to spot because they are academically inconspicuous and do not grab attention with exceptional behaviors.” 

Students, parents and teachers may scratch their heads, not understanding why a previously successful child would suddenly experience difficulty at school.  Initial attempts to address the problem may fail because there’s an implicit assumption that gifted students can organize themselves, follow multistep directions, and work independently. (To learn more about myths surrounding gifted students, visit the National Association for Gifted Children’s website.)

Children’s self-esteem can plummet when they struggle to meet the increased expectations of middle school. Some blame themselves, and grow increasingly anxious that they are no longer “smart”. Students sometimes describe this experience as “crashing”.

If you have an adolescent in this situation, the remedy may be masked by past success. At the heart of the problem may be this simple fact: if school has never been hard, your child may never have developed effective organizational and study skills

Good news: now that you know what’s wrong, you can address it together!

If you have a young child who achieves highly at school, here are some tips to prevent the crash:

Pay attention to the backpack, desk, paper flow, time management and materials. Don’t overlook areas in which they need support.

  1. Does your child’s written production lag behind other competencies? They might need instruction on using graphic organizers for problem solving or they might benefit from writing strategies for essay tests.
  2. If your child’s teacher sends the week’s homework in one packet, don’t do it all at once. Train your child to do a little work every day and do a good job on it. Avoid equating “fast” with “smart”.
  3. Watch the calendar. If there is a quiz, or a long-term project, encourage your child to start working early with active study strategies.  

By developing the Executive Function skills that work for them early in their academic careers, students can avoid the crash and focus on forming friendships and developing their unique strengths and interests.


Paula Feynman is the Academic Challenge and Enrichment Support Program Manager for Cambridge Public Schools. For more information please visit and click on “Academic Challenge and Enrichment”. 

photo credit:betsywatters via photopin cc




About the Author

Paula Feynman

Paula Feynman is the Academic Challenge and Enrichment Support Program Manager for Cambridge Public Schools. For more information please visit and click on “Academic Challenge and Enrichment”.


Related Post

The Best Strategy for Building Strong St...

When I had to move when I was in college, I did what most people do: I asked my friends for help. And, despite the busy lives they lead, they did. (Or...

Build Your Student’s Self-Worth: 3 Tips ...

If we were to eavesdrop on the inner thoughts of some students, we might hear something like this: "There is no way I belong in this honors-level clas...

Awkward Adolescence: 4 Tips to Help Your...

For most of us, simply thinking about our early teen years can quickly produce cringe-worthy memories of awkward social interactions, questionable fas...