Understanding Executive Functioning

9th Aug, 2015 Categories: Blog

“Johnny just can’t follow directions!”

“Sally’s never ready on time!”

“Mohammed just can’t keep his bag organized?”

“Fatima is a bright girl but she just can’t get it down on paper!”

There is nothing more frustrating for parents and teachers than to see children not live up to their potential. For parents, seeing your son or daughter struggle for hours over homework each night, or, for teachers, watching a bright student struggle in exams when you know how intelligent and capable they are in classroom discussions. These children, who often have the intelligence and motivation to be very successful, can often have difficulties in an area known as “Executive Function”.

Executive function describes the fundamental skills, habits and abilities that allow a person to stay focused, organized and in control of their impulses and emotions. These skills, although often overlooked, have a major impact on both academic achievement and long term success.

A good way to visualise these is imagine an air traffic control system in a busy airport. How it manages to process and direct all the arrivals, departures and competing information to ensure the system runs smoothly. So our executive function skills help us to process all the information our brains are receiving every second to focus, organize, plan and succeed.

Children who struggle in the area of executive function are often viewed as “smart but scattered”. Report cards are littered with phrases such as “must try harder”, “can do better” or even “lazy” as teachers become frustrated by what they see as a child not performing to the best of their ability. But like spelling, handwriting or any other area of occupational performance, executive skills can be learned, developed and habituated. As an Occupational Therapist it is my role to work with the child (as well as their family and educators) to develop practical effective strategies that will help support their executive function skills both in the classroom and at home. By doing this the young person not only improves academically but establishes habits and routines that will continue to benefit them as they transition into higher education and beyond.

Helping your child to develop these skills will provide them with the tools for life long success.

Click here to learn more about executive function. This free guide is provided by the Centre on the Developing Child at Harvard University and provides practical, effective advice on how to enhance and support your child’s executive function skills from birth to graduation.