Executive functions consist of several mental skills that help the brain organize and act on information. These skills enable people to plan, organize, remember things, prioritize, pay attention and get started on tasks.
If your child has unusual difficulty getting organized, remembering things, doing homework, and finishing projects, he may have executive function issues. Executive functions are cognitive skills we all use to analyze tasks, break them into steps, and keep them in mind until we get things done. These skills allow us to manage our time effectively, memorize facts, understand what we read, solve multi-step problems, and organize our thoughts in writing.
Executive functions are mental skills that we all use every day to get things done. We use them to set goals, plan how we’re going to do something, prioritize, remember things, manage our time and possessions, and finish what we start. Some children have weaknesses in executive functions and, regardless of how bright they are, struggle to do schoolwork and stay on top of tasks as a result.
Executive functioning issues often go hand-in-hand with ADHD, but kids without ADHD can struggle with them as well.
Some children have weaknesses in executive functions, and, regardless of how bright they are, they struggle to do schoolwork and stay on top of things they’re responsible for. Some of these functions are more obvious than others, because they involve a child’s behaviour in the world — losing her jacket, forgetting her homework, not following directions. Others are less obvious but just as important, especially for learning: retaining facts, solving problems that take several steps, figuring out what’s important in things she’s reading, putting things in a reasonable order when she’s writing.
There are several different kinds of tests that can be used to see what kinds of executive functions your child might be having a problem with.
The most comprehensive way to assess a child’s organizational issues and determine their cause is a neuropsychological evaluation. This is made up of a set of tests, questionnaires, interviews, and observations that clinicians use to get a good picture of what each kid’s strengths and weaknesses are. The test shows how kids complete tasks and process information.
Signs of executive functioning difficulties
Losing or forgetting important items on a regular basis
Being unable to maintain a clean room, desk, or locker
Time management difficulties:
Struggling to be on time due to disorganization or poor planning
Difficulty moving from one task to the next promptly
Struggling to perform in school:
Difficulty memorizing facts, digesting important information, organizing thoughts in writing, solving multi-step problems, and completing and turning in homework.
How to help if you suspect your child has executive functioning weaknesses:
• Talk to your child’s teacher and ask her to give you a rundown of the things your child is struggling with.
• Ask if the school psychologist can observe your child in the classroom. This can clarify the things he seems to be having trouble with, which will help you decide if testing is appropriate.
• Have him tested? The most comprehensive way to assess a child’s executive functioning issues is a neuropsychological evaluation by a professional. Kids can also be tested using questionnaires, like the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF), or a psychologist observation and assessment like the Cognitive Assessment System (CAS).
• After identifying your child’s specific issues, her teacher and school psychologist can work together to find ways to support her in the classroom, focusing on strengths and providing help where needed. A learning specialist can help your child develop tools and systems to support and strengthen weaker areas. For example checklists, planners, and other organizational and time management tools can help kids stay organized at home and school.