What Are Executive Function Skills?

Many of us have heard executive functioning used in terms of our children at school and at home. But what does it mean? Executive Function Blog

Executive Function – a Definition

Executive functions are necessary for goal-directed behavior. When we use the phrase “executive functioning skills,” we are describing a set of cognitive skills that control and regulate other behaviors and abilities. Our thought processes influence attention, memory and motor skills. (minddisorders.com).

Executive functioning skills help us to learn and retrieve information, plan, organize, manage our time, and see potential outcomes and act accordingly. When these processes work without difficulty, our brains do these tasks automatically, often without our awareness.

High Executive Function

In children and adults, those with high executive function skills are able to:

  • Initiate and stop actions
  • Make changes in behavior
  • Plan for the future
  • Manage time wisely
  • Anticipate possible consequences
  • Use problem-solving strategies
  • Use senses to gather information

For instance, the ability to initiate and stop actions may include working on a project for school or studying for an allotted time. Monitoring ones changes in behavior includes being able to act appropriately in a given situation and alter that behavior as needed. Planning for the future and managing time may include not procrastinating due to understanding the consequences of doing so.

Low Executive Function

When one is deficient in executive function skills, it may be difficult to plan and carry out tasks. The person may seem unable to sustain attention and feel overwhelmed by situations others find easier to navigate.

People with deficits in this area may also have comorbid diagnoses (meaning they go together). These include, but are not limited to: Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder, Autism, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Executive functioning deficits may run in families (learningdisabilities.about.com).

So, a child with executive functioning deficits may be able to pay attention to a lesson, until something new is introduced that requires a shift in their attention or that divides their focus. Children lacking in executive functioning skills also may have issues with verbal fluency.

Additionally, a child (or adult) with low executive function may have social problems. Executive functioning skills allow us to anticipate how others might feel if we do or say something. Those with low executive function may have difficulty interacting with others. Because they sometimes do not think things through before saying them, people with executive functioning deficits may blurt out inappropriate or hurtful comments, leading others to avoid them.

Working with your child, a therapist, and creating structure at home and accommodation plans at school are all ways to provide help for your child.

Increasing executive functioning skills will enable her to become a more organized, less stressed and less frustrated individual as she grows into a world of ever-increasing pressures.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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