In the past six months, have you noticed that your child:
- Has difficulty paying attention and/or is easily distracted
- Requires many reminders to stay on task
- Seems to struggle with making decisions
- Has trouble identifying where to start on assignments
- Has difficulty getting started on tasks, often seems to procrastinate
- Struggles to comprehend how much time a project will take to complete
- Takes longer than peers to complete homework and other tasks
- Needs numerous prompts from adults to stay on task
- Loses track of time or assignment due dates
- Forgets to turn in completed work
- Struggles with keeping track of needed materials; leaves materials at home/school
- Finds checking his/her work very difficult (and may not do it at all)
- Has trouble following multiple-step directions
- Forgets what he/she is saying or doing in the middle of a task
- Forgets the details of a text while reading or soon after finishing
- Gets frustrated with changes in schedule or usual routines
- Has difficulty shifting from one activity to another (i.e. when task demands change)
- Struggles with shifting between information (literal vs. figurative, past vs. present)
- Gets stuck on parts of tasks and can’t move forward
- Seems to have difficulty controlling impulses—will say or do things without thinking or is easily frustrated
- Often talks out of turn and/or interrupts others’ conversations
If so, your child may be struggling with executive functioning (sometimes referred to as “executive dysfunction”).
Although the above list does not diagnose a specific problem, it can help you, the parent, hone your observations so that you are able to identify areas of concern and begin a conversation with your child’s school personnel or other professionals, such as a speech or occupational therapist, educator or psychologist.
Executive function is a type of higher level thinking that can be organized into three main categories: learning, behavior & emotions, and social situations and relationships. These skills help connect past experiences with present performance and allow us to retain and work with information in our brains, focus our attention, filter distractions, initiate and switch mental gears.
There are three basic dimensions of these skills:
- Working memory — The ability to hold information in the mind and use it efficiently.
- Inhibitory control — The ability to master thoughts and impulses as to resist temptations, distractions, habits; to pause and think before acting.
- Cognitive flexibility — The capacity to switch gears & adjust to changing demands, priorities, or perspectives.
Ultimately, children establish executive functioning skills through engagement in meaningful social interactions and enjoyable activities that draw on self-regulatory skills at increasingly demanding levels. These skills allow them to plan, organize, strategize, attend to and recall details and manage time and space. Now, while most children do struggle with planning, organizing or follow-through at some point, undiagnosed learning and attention issues can complicate this development. Children with diagnosed LD or ADHD nearly always have difficulty with one or more executive skills, which can lead to obstacles with learning.
As each school year becomes increasingly more difficult and when children are required to be independent learners, those with executive dysfunction are more likely to fall behind. Not only might they feel anxious about what to do and how well they are doing it, but they may eventually become overwhelmed, exhausted, insecure and may begin to feel completely ‘out of control’ – not an ideal combination for building self-esteem!
We’re here to help
If this sounds like your child, please contact us to find out how we can help you help your child develop these skills so that they can perform to the best of their abilities.
Executive Function in Education: From theory to practice. New York: Guilford Press.
Harvard University: Center on the Developing Child. (NA). Harvard University. Enhancing and Practicing Executive Functioning Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence. Retrieved from: http://developingchild.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Enhancing-and-Practicing-Executive-Function-Skills-with-Children-from-Infancy-to-Adolescence-1.pdf
Meltzer, L.J. (2010). Promoting Executive Function in the Classroom. New York: Guilford Press. Meltzer, L.J. (Ed). (2007).
National Centers for Learning Disabilities, Inc. (2003). Executive Functioning 101. Retrieved from: https://www.understood.org/~/media/images/categorized/ebooks/executivefunction101ebook.pdf
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This post was written by Lizette Driscoll