Assistive Technology and Executive Functioning

Many different technologies can be used to facilitate executive functioning skills

In order to manage tasks and succeed in goal-directed activities, executive function skills are required. In Ellen Galinsky’s Mind in the Making (2010) book she suggests that we should think about executive function as managing, not ordering. In the book Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents (2010), Dawson and Guare discuss two dimensions of executive skills: thinking and doing. Thinking skills help students select and achieve goals and solve problems using strategies like prioritizing, planning, organizing, self-monitoring, and metacognition. Doing skills help students accomplish those tasks and involve skills such as response inhibition, emotional control, sustained attention, task initiation, persistence toward achieving a goal, and flexibility. Most academic tasks require students to coordinate and integrate many different skills. Weaknesses in executive function skills may have a significant impact on the accuracy and efficiency of students’ performance. Many different technologies can be used to facilitate executive functioning skills. For additional information on executive function and to experience what it may be like for your child with attention and learning difficulties, please visit Through Your Child's Eyes


Self-control is the ability to inhibit and regulate emotional and behavioral responses and read and respond appropriately to social situations.

Low-Tech Strategy Cards - Create cards that illustrate strategies that can be used when a student feels that they are losing control. These cards can be used as a visual reminder to help students make better self-management decisions.

Book Creator- This app can be used to create books with pictures, sound, text, and video. This app can be used to create social stories to support students who struggle with responding appropriately to social situations. Available for iOS, Android, and Windows. 

Self-Management Checklist Maker - This website is a free application that allows teachers to quickly create checklists that students can use to monitor their behavior in the classroom. 


Metacognition is the ability to analyze, understand, and monitor one’s own learning and thinking.

Low-tech Prioritizing Strategies- Prioritizing strategies can be used to help a student identify tasks that cause anxiety or tasks that need to be completed quickly. Color-coded folders or sticky notes can be used to identify the “red hot” items that should be completed first because they are causing anxiety and the “cool blue” activities that can wait. This strategy can help students monitor their own emotions regarding task completion. 

Reflective Journaling- Students can use a variety of technologies to journal about their learning. For example, they might journal after taking a test to reflect on what worked well in their studying and what they might do differently next time. Journals can be completed in the Notes app on an iOS device, in a word processor on a computer, or in a Google Document to be shared with the teacher. There are many apps for all tablet platforms that are designed specifically for journaling.

Capturing Thinking - Students can use a variety of technologies to capture their thinking. The SmartPen by Livescribe can be used to record a student as they talk through and write about an activity. The Explain Everything app and the AudioNote app can also be used to capture thoughts and ideas as students work. Both of these apps are available for iOS, Android, and Windows. 

Cognitive Flexibility/Shift

Cognitive Flexibility/Shift is the ability to take perspectives, make connections, think flexibly, and move freely from one situation to another.

Schedules- Schedules can be used to help a student with transitions between activities. Schedules can be created in many different ways. Visual schedules can support students who are visual learners by pairing pictures with activities. Schedules can be maintained in a notebook, in an app on a mobile device, or on a computer. Schedules allow students to be more independent with their movement from activity to activity throughout the day.

  • Choiceworks- Choiceworks is an app that helps students complete daily routines. Schedules can be created with visual supports. Choiceworks is available for iOS.
  • First-Then Visual Schedule- First-Then Visual Schedule is an app that provides a visual representation of a sequence, routine, activity, or transition. This app is available for iOS and Android. 

Vibrating Watch- A vibrating watch can be used to remind students when it is time to shift to a different activity. Watches are available that can be set to vibrate and show a reminder phrase at the programmed time. One option is the WatchMinder watch. 

Time-Timer- The Time-Timer is a visual timer that helps students see the amount of time left for an activity. The Time-Timer is available as a large, clock-like timer and as an app. The app is available for both iOS and Android. 

Goal-Directed Persistence

Goal-directed persistence is the ability to initiate tasks, plan and organize time and materials, solve problems, sustain effort, and follow through.

Calendars- Calendars can be maintained on a computer using a variety of methods. Most email systems have built-in calendars. Students can also maintain a calendar in their Google account. Low Tech calendars can be created using paper. Some students keep their calendar in an agenda book that is frequently used by schools. Portable calendar booklets can also be created using the PocketMod website. The Calendar app on an iOS device can be used to maintain appointments, assignments, and other obligations. Most mobile devices will have a built-in calendar.

Data Chart Organizers- This can be created in any word processor using the "Table" function. Once the chart is made, the user can take notes and keep track of reference sources in the different cells of the "Table".

Checklists- Students can plan and self-monitor tasks by using a checklist. Checklists can be created in a word processing program. There are also online checklist creators, such as Project Based Learning Checklist.

G Suite for Education- Google provides the ability for students, faculty, and staff to communicate, store files and collaborate on documents in real time from school, work, or home, all within a secure “closed campus” online environment.

Inspiration program - Inspiration is a graphic organizer program for webbing, diagramming, concept mapping, organizing, and outlining. A talking interface feature reads menu buttons, symbol names and toolbar buttons aloud. A listen tool reads students' work back to them in their diagram, notes, and outline. The record feature allows students to record information in both the diagram and outline. The one-click transfer feature moves the student's work to a selected word processor.  

Kidspiration program - Kidspiration is a visual learning tool that may be used to help students brainstorm ideas, organize, and categorize information, and create visual webs and maps. Students may use the record tool to record information and the listen tool to have text on the screen read to them. The SuperGrouper tool helps students sort, organize and categorize information. Kidspiration includes a library of over 1,200 student-friendly symbols. 

Notes App- The Notes app allows a student to take notes, write down thoughts, and record text on a mobile device. This app is part of the standard set of apps that come on an iOS device. Other mobile devices will have similar apps.

AudioNote- This app synchronizes note taking with audio recording. The notes are highlighted during playback. The notes can be handwritten or text. Notes and audio files can be shared by email. AudioNote is available for iOS, Android, and Windows.

iStudiezPro- This mobile app provides a schedule planner and interactive calendar. It will send notifications to assist with completing assignments on time. Grades can be shown and GPA calculated. iStudiezPro is available for iOS and Windows. 

Attention and Focus

Attention and focus is the ability to filter out distractions and sustain concentration in order to think, listen, or watch with interest.

Clock App- This is a standard app on mobile devices which allows students to set a stopwatch, alarm, and timer options. Most mobile devices will have a clock app.

Timers- There are many timers available online or on mobile devices which allow students to set them to assist with task completion. Some available timers are:

Rewordify- Rewordify will present pasted text in a simplified version. Words that are changed are highlighted on the screen and the user can click on the highlight words to see and hear the original words. Worksheets and quizzes to help the user learn the original words can also be printed from the site and statistics such as reading level, number of unique words, and average sentence length can be accessed. 

Text Compactor- Text Compactor is a free online text summarization tool. After pasting text into the provided box, the user can select the percentage of text to keep in the summary. The program will then provide a summary of the text which includes the chosen percentage of the original text. The summarized text could then be read aloud by a separate screen reader. 

Working Memory

Working memory is the ability to mentally store, retrieve, and use information for a task.

Flashcards- Flashcards may help students practice information that they need to remember. There are many different flashcard sites on the internet and apps, such as Quizlet for mobile devices. 

Highlight tool- Use the highlight tool in a word processing program to find main ideas, key details, and new vocabulary. Interacting with the text may increase their retention of the information.

Templates- Use a word processing program to develop templates for later use, e.g., a template for getting homework done, for solving a math word problem, planning long-term projects, etc. 

KWL Chart- The brain needs to connect with prior knowledge. Activate prior knowledge by having students make predictions using KWL charts.

Graphic Organizers- Linking new information with existing knowledge is important for long-term memory. Graphic organizers may be beneficial in linking this knowledge. They may also be helpful when summarizing information. When completing a writing assignment, students can create a graphic organizer to write down the main ideas so they can focus on one aspect of writing at a time. They would first generate ideas, then organize them, and finally attend to spelling, mechanical and grammatical rules. 

Cameras- Students can use the camera or their mobile device to snap photos of the whiteboard/blackboard after class to make sure they don't miss notes or an assignment. Photos may also serve as a helpful visual reminder of what needs to be done (i.e., create a photo series of packing up the backpack the night before so that nothing is forgotten). Most cameras will also record video, which can be useful in capturing a record of a process for completing a task.