Executive Function


Executive Function is the focus of our Educational Services team. Executive Functions are cognitive processes that allow people to plan, organize, make decisions, pay attention, and regulate behavior. All of us use Executive Function skills to solve problems and evaluate the decisions we make.  Research suggests that Executive Function skills are essential for students to succeed in school and adults to succeed in later life.

The development of Executive Function skills actually begins in infancy and continues into adulthood. The more we use these skills the greater the development of circuits or pathways in the frontal lobe of the brain that are responsible for critical reasoning and decision-making. The neuron networks of the brain develop and grow based on experience, so if they are utilized regularly, they become more extensive, organized, and effective.

In diagnosing various learning difficulties, Executive Function skill issues often go unnoticed. Children struggle through the learning process without understanding why. They are sometimes labeled under-achievers, lazy, or purposely not working up to their potential. Bright children are unable to demonstrate their talents because problems get in the way.

Many children who face social-emotional learning difficulties also experience problems with Executive Functioning, and learning Executive Function skills can help them to overcome or mitigate the effects of other problems.

How to tell if a child has an Executive Function problem

Children with Executive Function issues may exhibit some of the following problems or difficulties:

Trouble Organizing Work

  • Has difficulty identifying what material to record in note taking
  • When given three or more things to do…remembers only the first or the last thing to do
  • Has difficulty getting started on tasks, which may appear as oppositional behavior

Trouble Completing Tasks

  • Starts tasks but may not finish
  • Doesn’t check to insure that each step is completed
  • Written work is poorly organized
  • Doesn’t check work before submitting it
  • Has good ideas but doesn’t get the job done

Trouble Managing Materials

  • Starts assignments/tasks without necessary materials
  • Loses important papers or assignments
  • Cannot find clothes, shoes, toys, books, pencils, etc.
  • Fails to turn in completed work

Trouble Managing Time

  • Does not leave enough time to complete tasks
  • Wastes time doing small projects and fails to do big projects
  • Over-estimates or under-estimates time on needed tasks
  • Runs out of time before completing assignments/tasks

Trouble Managing Attention

  • Skips steps in multi-step tasks
  • Has difficulty relating to a story chronologically
  • Appears distractible and/or impulsive
  • Has difficulty making transitions and/or coping with the unforeseen

Social Difficulties

  • Exhibits inappropriate or over-reactive responses to situations
  • “Jumps the gun” socially
  • Picks smaller, immediate rewards over larger, delayed rewards
  • Doesn’t realistically evaluate performance in school