Executive Functioning Q&A

What is Executive Functioning?

Executive Functioning (EF) can be considered the CEO of the brain and is housed in the prefrontal cortex. EF is responsible for how you effectively manage your daily happenings, and EF skills are areas of learning which include: adaptable thinking, planning, self-monitoring, self-control, working memory, time management, and organization. EF skills help people navigate the world as they focus their attention, remember instructions, multitask, set and achieve goals, and control impulses. With time and direct, explicit coaching, people can streamline the neural pathways in the brain to improve EF. As part of EF, it is important to clear the stress fog in your brain that can prevent other areas from tapping into their full potential.

The prefrontal lobe development which is key to EF decision making continues to grow until a person is 25 years of age. Incorporating EF training into the lives of young learners can help accelerate that development, and it’s important to provide consistent training in order to effectively do this.

What are early indicators of EF challenges?

Learners experiencing low EF skills may exhibit socially inappropriate behavior, have trouble controlling emotions or impulses, become easily distracted or have a hard time paying attention. Often young learners with EF challenges have a difficult time staying on task, moving from one task to another, and they require requests to be repeated a number of times before follow through. It is common for learners to have auditory processing disorder, which means they may not pick up on auditory requests with simple tasks such as being asked to put a toy away or set the table.

How has the pandemic impacted EF skills?

The pandemic has uprooted our daily routines and forced us to work and learn remotely from home. This shift has caused many learners to experience a “cabin fever” effect, and for those experiencing EF challenges, it can cause heightened distress as they look for novel activities to keep their brains engaged. Additionally, the pandemic has increased the overarching stress fog and introduced new anxieties which further impact our ability to access key component skills of EF. There has been a significant uptick in anxiety over the past year which has increased the need for EF training in young learners.

What is the parents’ role in the EF learning process?

When it comes to EF training, it is important to have consistency and repetition across all environments. However, we do not want to put added stress on the parents within a family dynamic, so an education specialist or EF coach can come in to work alongside the parents and relieve any potential stress. EF training strongly emphasizes independence for learners and teaches them how to utilize the training and incorporate the strategies into all parts of their daily lives.

A few simple strategies parents can incorporate into the home to help support EF learners include:

  • Space it out: Take step-by-step approaches to work.
  • Write assignments in a planner which helps make imprints on the brain.
  • Use tools like time organizers, computers, or watches with alarms.
  • Rely on visual organizational aids/schedules and post your goals. Review both several times a day.
  • Plan and structure transition times and shifts in activities.

Let your child follow their passions and creativity while under a larger structure so they can build their EF skills. Encouragement, positive reinforcement, and rewarding good behavior are key parts to supporting your child through EF training. The more bought-in a learner is to the process, the more intrinsically motivated they become.

Remember that flexibility is important and that there will be bumps along the way, but give yourself grace and know that the training will have enormous positive impacts on your learner.

How can parents find the right resources to address EF challenges?

In addition to the services Learnfully provides, there are a number of helpful resources to support parents with non-typical learners, including ADDitudemag.com, CHADD.com, and Understood.org.

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