Executive Function Overview

Executive functions are the cognitive abilities that control and regulate most of what we do in day-to-day life. Executive functions include the ability to initiate, plan and organize, set goals, solve problems, regulate emotions, and monitor behavior. Because these skills play a role in all most aspects of life, Executive Function deficits can hamper a child academically, socially and emotionally. While they are present from an early age, problems with Executive Functions often do not become apparent until middle school, when the demands for working independently increase.

When children lack executive function skills, they need to be taught explicitly. It helps to start with an inventory of your child’s strengths—a good memory, focuses intensely on things that interest him, is good at self-assessment, flexible about coming up with alternative plans, etc.—so you can rely on the things he’s good at to help develop the skills he doesn’t have.
Is this your child?
  • Keeps a messy room and a disorganized desk
  • Has difficulty following sequential instructions
  • Has trouble sitting still when others don’t?
  • Needs to be nagged repeatedly to get ready to catch the bus?
  • Fails to complete assignments unless you’re standing over him?
  • Forgets to turn in homework even when it’s completed?
  • Loses things regularly, from jackets to permission slips?
  • Has a meltdown when it’s time to clean her room?
  • Has difficulty planning and managing time?
  • Fails to control his impulse to lash out when frustrated?
  • Forgets to pay attention to where she’s going when talking on her phone?
  • Engages in risk-taking or thrill-seeking behaviors

See also . . .