Executive Functioning Why does it Matter
Executive Functioning Why does it Matter? Executive Functioning a big “buzzword” in education right now. If you have a child diagnosed with ADHD/ADD, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Autism, Aspergers or a Learning Disability, you have probably come across the term Executive Functioning.
So, how does Executive Functioning affect your child? Have you seen any of the following?
- Easily frustrated – fights or quits tasks easily, melts down easily.
- Anxious – worries about things out of their control, or about making mistakes excessively.
- Worried or bothered by seemingly “little” things – could by physical things or academic things.
- Frustrated by sitting still – constantly on the move, needs to have hands/body moving
- Following directions is arduous labor – can follow one direction at a time (well, maybe sometimes?), may have difficulty with more than one direction at a time.
- Difficulty completing tasks – may start things and not finish, or gets frustrated and stops rather than ask for help.
- Struggles with getting started in tasks – even seemingly simple assignments (or larger ones) are difficult to get started because they don’t know where to begin
- Strains to keep track of the processes of math and reading – forgets to go back to the passage to help find answers or reread, loses their place in a multi-step math problem or with long division/multiplication type processes.
- Easily bothered or distracted by light levels (high or low) or noise (too loud or too quiet) – textures, sounds, lights, cold, heat, blue skies, gray skies, dogs barking, someone says something unexpected – these and more distract and bother our kids at times.
- Flexibility is an issue; may struggle greatly with being able to “switch gears” when life demands it.
- Planning and prioritizing are difficult or impossible to the chagrin and frustration of the person.
- Working memory can be faulty and frustrating.
- Response inhibition (ability to control one’s own emotions) is a struggle or lost battle.
What is Executive Functioning?
The official definition from LDONLINE (LD Online) is: “The executive functions are a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. It is an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation.” This means that a lot of the above behaviors that are sometimes considered “careless” and “willful” can be traced back to issues with Executive Functioning.
In the course description for True North Homeschool Academy’s Creating Priorities Class for Executive Functioning, I describe it as it looks at my house… Perhaps your child struggles with executive functioning skills, as mine does. When it is time to do his schoolwork, my son loses his pencil, loses his worksheet, will solve the problem with blocks but forget to write the answer, disappears, jumps up and runs around the house, find a million other things to do, and then will finally sit down, solve two questions, and then he’s off again…. My son, like many others, struggles with executive functioning skills. He doesn’t MEAN to be unorganized and distracted, but his brain just can’t help it. Like many people with a diagnosis, he also struggles with time management, self-control, memory and other cognitive issues; common for those whose brains are developing differently. As a family, we are working on many things to help him learn how to better manage his time and his work.
What can be done to enhance and teach Executive Functioning Skills?
You can focus on specific skills that may be lacking. For example –
- How to study – how to make outlines, study key terms, pay special attention to charts, summaries and footnotes, go over review questions
- Using a checklist – provide younger children with a checklist of tasks (you might have to begin with 1 at a time and slowly increase), have them check off tasks as they complete them. You can even work in breaks or “rewards” as tasks are completed.
- Using a planner – older students can utilize a planner with assignments for the day or week to be completed. To gain independence, allow students to complete the assignments in their own order. If needed, specify which tasks can be done on any day, and which must be done on specific days (if your child needs repetition in math, set the expectation that one math assignment must be completed each day instead of doing them all on a single day).
- Using graphic organizers for writing, or reading – graphic organizers are great tools for analyzing fiction and nonfiction literature, and for brainstorming and organizing writing assignments.
- Using anchor charts or a math notebook to show the steps needed to solve math problems – Math notebooks (classrooms usually also use anchor charts) are great tools to help students remember how to solve specific types of questions, and to follow step-by-step directions on more complicated math (like long division or multiplication)
- Create vocabulary or sight word flashcards – index cards create great flashcards to review sight words, vocabulary for any subject or to create your own math fact flashcards.
- Give choices (make sure all choices presented are acceptable to you) – A child who is easily frustrated or tends to “battle” you about schoolwork is sometimes feeling out of control of the situation. So they work to regain control by fighting against what they see is the source of the problem (you). When you provide choices, it helps them feel back in control. The catch is, you only present choices that are acceptable to you. If it is not acceptable, it is not a choice. If there is still an argument, write the choices down or draw pictures. You can’t argue with something that is written. If they continue to try to argue with you, you just point. Eventually, they will make a decision from the choices provided. (It might take a little while the first time, but it gets easier as you continue).
Where can you go for help?
There are a lot of resources out there to get help. Here are a few suggestions of things to consider:
- You can address the auditory/visual processing issues that come with these issues through a neurodevelopment brain training program like Dianne Craft or LIttle Giant Steps.
- Check out the numerous resources on True North Homeschool Academy’s Blog posts.
- There are also numerous resources available on SPED Homeschool blog posts and videos.
- Check out the upcoming Spring Classes at True North Homeschool Academy