Executive Functioning: What’s All the Buzz About?

  • Written by Submitted by Dr. Melodee Loshbaugh, Executive Director, Brock’s Academy

We’ve all known students (or are possibly raising one) who are constantly running late, can’t remember what or where their homework is, or do the assignments but then forget to turn them in. They just can’t seem to follow through on things unless someone takes them by the hand and guides them gently through the process. Often this is chalked up to laziness or carelessness, but researchers who study this behavior believe it has more to do with a child’s executive functioning skills. It is possible for a student to really be doing their best and still not succeed in school if they have executive functioning challenges.

Executive functioning (EF) is a term that describes a person’s ability to follow through on tasks and think and act independently. While all of us have these abilities in varying strengths, a person with executive functioning challenges seems unable to do them at an adequate level. These struggles can become major road blocks in a child’s educational journey if they are not addressed. Doctors Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Laurie Dietzel are authors on the subject. They have provided the following list of executive functions to help us understand the challenges people may face when they are lacking these skills.

What are Executive Functioning Skills?

Inhibition – The ability to stop a behavior, action or thought at the right time, or to prevent an impulsive action from taking place.

Shift – The ability to think flexibly and respond appropriately to different and changing situations.

Emotional Control – The ability to understand and engage appropriately in group dynamics, including waiting turns during conversations.

Initiation – The ability to begin a task and independently generate solutions, strategies and ideas.

Working Memory – The ability to remember short term information for the purpose of performing a task.

Planning/Organization –The ability to think a task through from beginning to end and plan for potential course changes.

Organization of Materials – The ability to organize work and living spaces to promote success.

Self-Monitoring – The ability to evaluate past personal experiences and decide if behavior changes should be made; seeking out additional resources or asking for help when needed.

What can parents do?

Children with executive functioning challenges do not always know the next logical step in a process. Clear, sequential instructions are often necessary to help them be successful. Here are some suggestions provided by the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

• Provide visual clues and review them frequently.

• Make use of planners and calendars; they reduce stress and feelings of being overwhelmed.

• Use both written and verbal instructions.

• Create a daily routine; familiarity makes things easier.

• Create “to do” lists to help students visualize and plan appropriately.

• Divide big assignments into smaller tasks and make use of timelines to stay on track.

• Keep clutter to a minimum.

• If possible, have different work areas for different activities; stock each area with its own set of supplies.

• Frequently consult your child’s teacher and possibly bring in an outside tutor/mentor to help them stay organized and focused on homework.


What is Executive Functioning?

Executive Function Fact Sheet

Additional Suggested Book Resources:

Teaching Teens with ADD, ADHD & Executive Function Deficits

Late, Lost, and Unprepared

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