Strengthening Executive Functioning
Executive functioning skills regulate, control, and manage one’s thoughts and actions. To put it succinctly, executive functioning skills are what manage the brain.
You probably don’t even think about your own executive functioning or that of others. Unless, of course, you are confronted with a situation in which executive functioning is not, in fact, functioning. Most of us intuitively understand the importance of executive functioning and have a sense of what it is as well as a concern when we don’t “see” it in others. Certain times of fast growth, such as the tween/teen years can affect a child’s executive functioning, especially as the teen brain/body is doing some “Brain Pruning.”
But for some people, executive functioning is more naturally difficult or possibly impaired. These diagnoses can include ADHD, ADD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Processing Disorders, Dementia, and Traumatic Brain Injuries.
Three Main Categories of Executive Functioning Skills
- The ability to pay attention and to organize
- The ability to plan and prioritize; being organized during tasks school or work and the ability to set and meet goals
- Task initiation- taking action to get things done (motivation)
- Keeping key information in mind while completing a task
Cognitive Flexibility (Flexible Thinking)
- Understanding different points of view
- Being able to adjust behavior to an unexpected change in the environment or schedule
- Regulating one’s own emotions, including controlling and appropriately channeling one’s feelings
- Self-monitoring (keeping track of what you are doing) and self-awareness (how is one doing in the moment).
- Controlling urges to “do”, thinking before acting or responding, exhibiting deferred gratification as well as perseverance.
Obviously, executive functioning skills are important – they allow us to interface with the world appropriately, build, and keep significant relationships and hold jobs.
How Do Executive Functioning Disorders Manifest?
People with executive functioning issues may exhibit one or more of the following:
- Impulse or emotional control
- The ability to begin, organize, plan and follow through on task completion
- The inability to listen or pay attention
- The inability to manage one’s time
- The inability to multi-task or juggle multiple tasks, even if they are sequential
- Short term memory issues, including an inability to remember what they’ve just heard
- Difficulty following a sequence of steps
- Difficulty changing from one task to another
- Socially inappropriate behavior such as angry or aggressive behavior, statements about self-harm or destruction of property
If you suspect you or someone in your family has issues with executive functioning, all is not lost! You can accommodate or learn coping skills.
Teaching Coping Skills
Tips and tools to ramp up those executive functioning skills include:
- Visual schedules
- Positive reinforcement
- Organizational techniques
- Working memory exercises
- Item lists
- Self-emotional recognition techniques
- Flexible seating
- Slowly introducing differences in schedules to provide flexible thinking
- Extra transitional times
- Frequent breaks
- Timers or alarms during tasks
- Explicit instruction
- Organized homework or assignment binder
- Parent/student contract agreement
- Clearly defined academic and social expectations
- Logic games, puzzles, and coursework
Executive Functioning is the management of the brain. For kids with executive functioning disorders, it is important to fortify them with resources, materials, and processes that will help them with those struggles throughout life. ~Lisa Nehring
Resources and Support
If you need to be better equipped in this area, you will want to join us for our SPED Equipping Membership! We focus on providing support, encouragement and tools for special needs families all week long. We host weekly Equipping seminars with discussions, a Book Club, and Coffee and Chat! You may also want to find out about our current special needs discounts, check out a listing of resources here and read our blog post, Executive Functioning and Why it Matters in Your Homeschool.