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Executive Functioning Skills for School Success

Executive Functioning Skills for School Success

Executive functioning skills are behaviors that guide and complete actions.  They are the skills we use, independently, to help us to complete tasks and achieve goals.

Think of them as not the individual skills of a task, but the behaviors needed to complete the task.

Executive functioning skills are crucial for academic success. These skills are not directly taught in school, through are expected to be utilized in the classroom setting. The independent use of skills, including initiation, problem-solving, working memory, inhibition and organization, is difficult for both adults and children.

Executive functioning concerns are seen in a variety of conditions and diagnoses including ADHD, Learning Disabilities, Anxiety, Depression, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and a variety of medical conditions. However, there are no specifics of what is necessary for a diagnosis of Executive Functioning Disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th Edition (DSM-V).

Executive Functioning By Age:

During the preschool years, prefrontal brain systems undergo rapid changes such as making newExecutive Functioning Skills for School Success neurological connections and speeding up how fast messages are transmitted in the brain. It is the time in which executive functioning skills, specifically inhibitory control, rule use, working memory, and motor persistence, play a critical role in the development of socialization and readiness for academic learning. The early years of schooling are learning how to be a student.  There are many inherent structures and routines in place to help ensure the child completes work.  As children get older the natural scaffolds of teacher interference and organization are removed, stressing the need for independence.

As children reach school age, executive functioning skills are central to successful acquisition and efficient use of academic skills, particularly in efforts to overcome learning problems of all kinds. At this age, children are expected to integrate multiple executive functioning skills as a means to complete longer tasks.

As these children age into adolescence, the demands of executive functioning skills increase tenfold. At this age, executive functioning difficulties are seen with spontaneous use of skills, strategic initiation of tasks, and mental flexibility. Meaning concerns are no longer with regard to impulse regulation but rather with initiating action on work/time management as well as developing organizational strategies to complete work.

Interventions for Executive Functioning:

A major component of intervention for executive functioning is that the techniques have to be in real-life contexts. Teaching skills during tasks that mimic academic and life demands results in better carryover of skill. This systematic approach to teaching problem solving with everyday activities is best.  Familiar tasks should be used to learn skills initially. The use of novel tasks in the learning process will prove difficult due to perceived difficulty, stress or anxiety around possible failure.

Specifically, as the child learns to complete a multi-step task following a set sequence of steps (with multiple opportunities to practice the routine), the task becomes less novel. The child is then able to improve functional activities with less reliance on external cues.

Interventions must be rehearsed, coached, and practiced to support overlearning or automaticity in the environment in which they will be needed. This will explicitly support the “how and when” skills associated with the child’s unique areas of problem behavior.

There is also an emphasis on developing a child’s metacognitive skills.  Metacognition is essentially thinking about thinking.  You are teaching the child to think and plan ahead before diving into an activity or task.

A fourth principle involves structuring the child’s environment by establishing simplified, consistent routines for daily tasks.  Teaching and carryover is most effective with accommodations and interventions across each environment. These accommodations could include verbal cues, nonverbal gestures, schedules, check-lists, alarm clocks, timers (auditory or visual), and/or environmental modifications.

Additionally, a motivational reward/consequence system, and/or self-talk methods can also be used to ensure success.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Executive Functioning Skills for School Success

Multi-tasking seems to be the norm of the everyday lifestyle. When you think about it, in order to multi-task, your brain needs to be able to focus on two different types of stimuli, organize two sets of information, plan for two different motor movements and remember two sets of “to-do” lists. Sounds like a lot of work! The ability for your brain to do this is possible with executive functioning skills. Executive Functioning Skills or School SuccessExecutive functioning skills are the higher-level brain skills that allow a person to complete tasks throughout the day. These skills include memory, initiation, inhibition/impulse control, shift, and organization. Executive functioning is best understood by listing specific skills, however, it is not a unitary skill. Often times, these skills build upon one another and are used in conjunction to complete complex tasks.

School places executive functioning demands on children on a daily basis; from reviewing the daily schedule to written work. Some children find the school day to be more cumbersome due to difficulty in utilizing one or more executive functioning skills. When these executive functions are not working effectively, the individual, despite strong abilities, can experience significant problems in many aspects of learning, getting work done, social functioning, and self-esteem. These children, with or without an executive functioning or attentional difficulty diagnosis, can appear confused, become frustrated or angry easily, or refuse to complete work.

As the demands of school increase with each passing year, having well-developed executive functioning skills is critical to academic success. Below is an overview of each of the before mentioned executive functioning skills, along with, activities to help promote these skills at home.

Executive Functioning Skills Overview:

Executive Functioning Skill Definition Activities to Try
Memory Ability to retain and manipulate distinct pieces of information over short or long periods of time Sequential tasks of 3-5 steps with or without use of visual aides.Memory card games

Recall the events of the day in order from waking up to dinner time.

Initiation Ability to begin a task or activity and to independently generate ideas, responses, or problem-solving strategies. Utilize a “to-do” list of 3-5 items. This will encourage the completion of each task.Minimize distractions: encourage work to be completed in a specific location in the house with minimal visual and auditory distractions.

Create a weekly schedule for house-specific initiation of tasks (i.e., chores). Each day should have its own specific task to decrease the amount of demands presented.

Inhibition/Impulse Control Ability to stop one’s own behavior at the appropriate time, including stopping actions and thoughts. Teach social rules for a variety of settings: “When we walk into the store, first we will look at mommy’s list, and then we can look at bikes”.Redirect your child when they are interrupting you: “I am talking on the phone, I can talk to you as soon as I am done”.

Make sure to praise your child immediately after you direct your attention back to him.

Incorporate a fidget into daily activities, especially sedentary tasks, to provide a means to “get the wiggles out” without needing to flee from the task.

Shift Ability to move freely from one situation to another and to think flexibly in order to respond appropriately to the situation. Create a cognitive obstacle course: create 3 stations in which the child is to complete 3 different tasks (ex. gross motor, writing, puzzle) with 3 minutes dedicated to each station. Rotate between the stations until all 3 tasks are completed.Encourage multi-tasking in a structured manner. Sedentary tasks for multi-tasking can include a game-play scenario mixed with writing.

Use of a picture schedule to promote ease and regulation during transitions between activities.

Organization Ability to manage current and future-oriented task demands. OR Ability to impose order on work, play, and storage spaces. Create a “school ready” system to promote organization of school materials. This can be done in multiple ways: folders, binder system, use of a weekly planner.Use of graphic organizers for academic success: outline templates, Venn diagrams, idea webs, 3-5 step sequence graphs, main idea organizers.

Create a map of the school: utilize this map to establish a routine for navigating the hallways in an efficient and timely manner, including stops at either the bathroom or locker.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

 

Executive Functioning Activities At Home

Many kids have difficulty mastering skills such as problem-solving, organization, sequencing, initiation, memory, attention, and breaking downgirl with homework books tasks.  These skills (and many more) fall under the category of executive functioning.  As children get older and begin middle school, these skills are expected to advance quickly.  It is usually in about 5th grade where teachers and parents start to notice their child may be having more difficulty than her peers in executive functioning skills. Academic specialists, occupational therapists, and neuropsychologists are just a few of the professionals who address challenges in these areas, but there are also a variety of activities that can be done at home that are both fun and target the development of certain executive functioning skills.

Here is a list of activities that build certain aspects of executive functioning and are fairly easy to orchestrate in the home:

  • Using Playdoh, blocks, or Tinkertoys, build a figurine and have your child build an exact replica in size and color.  This works on multiple skills, including initiation, breaking down tasks, sequencing, organization, and attention.  If you are unable to build an example, or if you have an older child who enjoys playing independently, there are often pictures of structures to build that come along with block sets or images online that can be printed.
  • Have your child go through a magazine and make a list of all the toys/items wanted. Then, have her organize the list in some sort of order (most wanted at the top, alphabetical, price, etc.).  For older kids, you could also have them write a description of the item, cut the pictures out, and type up a list with descriptions and pasted pictures, or even plan a presentation.
  • There are many board games that target executive functioning skill development.  A few of the games used in the therapeutic setting that would be easy and fun options for home use include: Rush Hour (a problem-solving and sequencing game involving getting a specific car out of a traffic jam when the other vehicles can only move in straight lines), Mastermind (trying to determine what the secret code is by process of elimination), and Connect 4 Stackers (a game of attention, organization, and planning to be the first to get four in a row, like the original, but this game involves different dimensions).
  • There are many resources that can be printed from the internet. Logic puzzles come in many different levels of difficulty and involve taking given clues, making inferences from those clues, and eventually solving some sort of problem through the use of the clues. There are often charts that accompany these puzzles and require attention, organization, sequencing and problem-solving.
  • Have your child choose a recipe from a magazine. After verifying that it is a realistic recipe that can be made in your home, have her write a grocery list containing everything needed to prepare that dish, create a list of the necessary cooking supplies, and for older children, have them look up the price of each item at the store and create an estimated budget. If possible, let them be part of the entire process, and take them with you to the grocery store. Again, with older children, you could even put them in charge of pushing the cart and finding the items in the store. For older kids, they may also act as the “head chef” and be responsible for completing most of the cooking. For younger kids, if there are safety concerns, assign specific tasks as their job in the cooking process.

One of the most important aspects of doing therapeutic activities at home is that your child is having fun. These are just a few of the many activities that can be done at home to develop executive functioning skills and are also engaging and enjoyable for school age kids.




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Executive Functioning Skills- Critical for School Success

The task of being a middle or high school student has become overwhelming.  In addition to demanding academic work, students have many extra activities, sport and other obligations to balance. Even the most engaged and focused students can become overwhelmed and miss important work or commitments due to weak executive functioning skills:  the skills that allow us to manage ourselves and our time with the resources we have. These skills are critical for school success, but are often not taught in the classroom.

The following are the Executive Functioning skills:Little girl sitting on a pile of books

  1. Emotional Control– the ability to regulate emotions in order to stay productive and complete a task
  2. Initiation– the ability to start a task independently
  3. Planning/Organization– the ability to plan and organize one’s time, assignments and activities effectively
  4. Shift– the ability to move from one task to another
  5. Working memory– the ability to hold information in the mind for completing a task
  6. Inhibitions– stopping impulses at the right time in order to stay focus and accomplish the task at hand

If you find your child struggling in any of these areas, consider a specific course or tutor to teach these important tools for classroom success. North Shore Pediatric Therapy offers both one-on-one tutoring sessions and an Executive Functioning Skills for School Success workshop (9:30-11:30 a.m., August 13-17) to help your child learn these critical skills.

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