By Saskia Nilsen M.A., Learning specialist and RITES child advocate
“Executive Function” is a buzz word in education these days based on more recent brain research. But what does all this buzz mean for the average student with executive functioning challenges? Executive functioning is a broad term that refers to numerous mental processes:
- Paying attention
- Remembering details
In addition, a person with executive functioning challenges might have difficulty with managing time and materials or have a weakness with “working memory”. Generally, it is harder for them to develop the metacognitive skills (thinking about how your brain thinks) needed to self-regulate everyday tasks like:
- Making plans
- Keeping track of time
- Keeping track of more than one task at once
- Evaluating or prioritizing ideas
- Reflecting on work
- Making corrections
- Asking for help or seeking more information when needed
An explanation of executive function is often followed by a laundry list of tasks and skills closely related to what is often called “study skills”. More recently, researchers have been looking at the development of executive function skills with an age-appropriate continuum of abilities. For example:
- A preschooler should be able to use executive functioning to get dressed by putting clothes on in order.
- A late elementary or early middle school student should be able to follow a schedule that requires them to move from classroom to classroom and that changes day by day.
- A high school student should be able to plan out a long-term project and break the project down into specific daily tasks.
Overall, this buzz word refers to a lot of essential self-control of brain functions and it is important to make sure that, if this is an area where your child struggles, you and your child’s teachers understand how executive function impacts learning on multiple levels.
A great resource for parents and educators is the book Smart But Scattered by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare.