By adolescence, students need to be able to make sound personal decisions as well as use complex thinking processes to understand and reason about global issues.  Many school subjects require students to demonstrate this reasoning in their ability to answer questions, state an argument or write an essay.

In daily life students need to be able to integrate new information into their body of understanding, and use their previous learning to make choices about behaviour, interact to a high level with other people, and cooperate in family situations.

Students with poor executive functions often have impaired inferential reasoning.  This impacts on decision and choice making, understanding the perspective of other people, drawing correct and logical conclusions, taking all the information into account, and learning from experience.  Children and teenagers with poor inferential reasoning are often worried or anxious – out of proportion to a situation.

Key skills:

  • Identifying and presenting the main idea
  • Making inferences
  • Expressing consequences
  • Identifying problems
  • Determining solutions
  • Interpreting perspectives
  • Transferring insights
  • Integrating thinking skills


Our environment presents us with a great deal of information.  When we study we are also presented with huge amounts of data and information.  We need to be able to see the main import of what we are hearing, reading, seeing in order to process it efficiently.  When we speak we also need to present the main idea clearly so that our listener understands us.

Poor ability to identify the main idea results in difficulties in these areas, for example:

  • Difficulty taking notes, summarising
  • Understanding the implication of text
  • Understanding questions
  • Being overwhelmed
  • Deciding what is relevant and irrelevant
  • Knowing where to focus attention and time


  • Ask your teen to identify the main idea of movies, news items, paragraphs in magazines or newspapers, books, TV shows, advertisements
  • If this is difficult, offer a choice and model how to identify the main idea – “Is it mostly about…. Or mostly about….? What is the most important part?”


We need to make sense of what we see, hear, or read.  Inferences explain our observations.  To do this we need to take all the relevant information into account and process it to draw logical, plausible propositions and conclusions, also applying anything that we have learnt previously that could apply to this situation.

Poor ability to inference results in difficulties in these areas, for example:

  • Understanding situations
  • Answering why questions
  • Answering How do you know questions
  • Making explanations
  • Drawing conclusions about other people’s actions
  • Understanding texts


  • Show your teen how to look for the evidence, find the clues that are relevant
  • Show how to consider other plausible explanations instead of jumping to conclusions
  • Show how to take all the evidence into account, not just some of it
  • Have fun with logic puzzles


In daily life we often need to make choices that are influenced by what the outcome is likely to be.    We need to be able to see ahead to logical outcomes and avoid problems.  Teens also need to be able to do this in a more abstract way to answer questions about texts.  When we can anticipate and predict outcomes there is usually less need to be overwhelmed with possibilities.

Poor ability to identify consequences results in difficulties in these areas, for example:

  • Predicting in real life
  • Making safe and appropriate choices
  • Explaining choices to others
  • Predicting in text and understand the writer’s intent


  • In unemotional situations (eg hypothetical, or in texts) talk about what could happen as a result. Think of multiple plausible outcomes.
  • In real life situations where a choice needs to be made, talk through options
  • Talk about multiple options and compare the outcomes – eg If you do this what will happen? Will it make things better, worse or stay the same? What about if you did this instead?  What will happen and will it make it better, worse or stay the same.


To solve problems effectively it is necessary first to accurately identify a problem and say why it is a problem.

If people fail to accurately identify the problem it results in difficulties with:

  • Finding good solutions to real life problems
  • Understanding what a question is really asking
  • Understanding that a problem may have more than one part that needs a solution
  • Seeing why actions have not resulted in a desired outcome


  • Paraphrase hypothetical or real problems and be sure to say WHY it is a problem
  • In real situations where a problem needs a solution, brain storm to identify how many parts there are to a problem situation
  • Offer a choice – “Is the problem really this…. Or this…?”
  • Use world situations or characters, or home events, to point out where a problem is not being solved due to not having really identified what the problem is


Once the real issue has been identified (What is the problem and why is it a problem?) then it is possible to suggest solutions.  Solutions need to be logical and solve all parts of the problem, ideally with the best possible outcome for all concerned.  This requires students to learn from experience

If students have difficulty with determining solutions they will have difficulty with:

  • Avoiding being in trouble
  • Over-reacting
  • Being overwhelmed with problems
  • Finding appropriate ways to solve problems
  • Evaluating the best solution


  • Show how to evaluate possible alternatives
  • Take expressing consequences a little further – because of the possible consequences which choice should you make if there are alternatives
  • Talk about whether possible solutions are appropriate, correct, socially acceptable, ethical


In life it is essential to be able to see and understand other people’s point of view.  We make impressions of others based on verbal and non-verbal information, such as their appearance and tone of voice.  We make judgements about why people do what they do.  We make better judgments if we are able to make accurate observations and understand that what we see and hear could have different interpretations.

If students have difficulty with interpreting perspectives they are likely to:

  • Jump to conclusions about other people’s motives
  • Misunderstand
  • Not appreciate that someone else may have a valid opinion or reading of a situation
  • Not take other people’s feelings or needs into account


  • Talk about the judgments we make about others
  • Note how stereotypes are often portrayed in media
  • In real life situations talk about the many different ways a situation could be understood from different perspectives


We all need to learn from experience.  However, many times in life students will find themselves in a situation of which they have no previous specific experience.  In their academic work they will also have to take on many new concepts and strategies.  We need to be able to think of situations in the past where there is information that we can apply to new situations.

If students have difficulty with transferring insights they are likely to:

  • Panic in new situations or be reluctant to try new things independently
  • Fail to learn from experience
  • Feel blank answering questions for which they do not know a specific answer


  • If your student is reluctant to try something new, point out what parts of the new experience they may already be familiar with
  • Show how to answer an unknown question by thinking of information that is in some way similar
  • Encourage new experiences – either in real life or vicariously in books, movies etc.
  • If they have had a failure help them identify how they have contributed to that specifically