What Are Executive Functioning Skills?
Executive functioning skills are the mental abilities that allow us to engage in goal-oriented actions. Imagine that your executive functioning is like the air traffic controller of your brain. All of this information is flying in from all directions, and we use our executive functioning to sort information, decide what to direct our attention to, and prioritize and determine how to react. Executive functioning skills help us to control our emotional response and behavior, decide on our actions, organize, and plan for the future. Our executive functions aid us in getting started, focusing, staying motivated, working at an appropriate rate, managing our feelings and frustrations, remembering information we are working with, and monitoring our physical activity.
Up to ninety percent of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) struggle with executive functioning skills. Students who are having challenges at school related to executive functioning may display the following behaviors:
- Difficulty working on classwork or homework independently
- Difficulty following multi-step directions
- Trouble estimating the time needed to complete a task or with time management
- Forgetting or failing to complete assignments
- Easily distracted and often “off task”
- Misplaces belongings frequently
- Jumps from one task to another without completing any of the tasks
- Difficulty with transitions and changes to routine
- Extremely disorganized papers and personal belongings
- Has a hard time retaining information or important details and difficulty memorizing
- Has trouble effectively evaluating or monitoring their progress or academic performance
- Says or does things without thinking about the consequences first
- Difficulty waiting or persisting
- Tries the same strategy to solve a problem (usually the easiest one) even if it is not working
Often children who struggle with executive functioning skills are very bright and fully capable of completing academic tasks. They may show just how much they know by excelling at classroom discussions. When someone helps them to work through the steps, make a plan, and build structure into a task, they are often capable of doing really well in school. Children with executive functioning deficits benefit from working with an academic coach to learn strategies for enhancing working memory, managing incoming information, planning, organizing, and managing their time. Students can also work on these strategies at home with their parents. Some of the blogs and videos linked below may be helpful for students who wish to build their executive functioning skills.
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Nina Parrish, M. Ed.
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