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Executive Functioning IEP Goals for Sustained Attention: Helping Kids Who Struggle

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

It's no secret that kids these days have a lot of distractions vying for their attention - from smartphones and tablets to the endless amount of stimuli in today's classrooms.

Sustained attention, or the ability to maintain focus despite distractions, is critical for success in school and life. So, taking a deep look into executive functioning deficits may be a key to unlocking that success for students with specific learning disabilities.

In order to help these students, it is important to understand the different areas of executive functioning that impact sustained attention. In this article, we'll discuss what executive functioning is and how to set IEP goals related to sustained attention.

What executive functioning is

Executive functioning skills are the cognitive processes that help us plan, organize, and complete tasks. These skills involve working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control.

Sustained attention is the ability to maintain focus on a task or activity despite distractions, fatigue, or boredom. In order to sustain attention on a task, individuals must be able to filter out distractions, resist impulsive behaviors, remember instructions, and persist in the face of frustration.

For students who struggle with sustaining attention in the classroom setting, there are a few key areas of executive functioning that may be impacting their ability to focus:

Working memory

This is the ability to hold information in your mind while you work with it. For example, when a teacher is giving instructions for a math problem, working memory allows students to hold onto the instructions in their minds while they complete the problem.

Mental flexibility

This is the ability to switch between tasks or adapt to changes in your environment. For example, if a student is working on a writing assignment and gets interrupted by a fire drill, they will need to be able to stop what they are doing and follow the new instructions (evacuating the building).


This is the ability to resist impulses and manage emotions. For example, if a student wants to talk to their friend instead of paying attention in class, they will need self-control to resist that impulse and focus on the task at hand.

There are a few different ways that you can help students who struggle with sustaining attention in the classroom: