Executive Function: Skills for Success
Written by: Julie Johnson, MOT, OTR/L
As adults, we don’t talk back to our boss when we disagree and we refrain from honking the horn when someone cuts us off on the road, because we have control over our behaviors. We look at problems from different angles and use a variety of strategies until we are successful, because we can think flexibly. Adults can recall an address and simple driving directions for a period of time without writing them down thanks to our developed working memory. We are successful adults today not because we were born with executive function skills, but because we developed these skills through our experiences through childhood and adolescence. With each experience we added to our “library of executive function”. We have both the books with the experiences and the catalogue system by which to locate the right book for each situation. By the time we started our first job, we had a decent sized library to pull information from; however, we continued to learn from our experiences and develop executive function skills throughout life.
Although all children are born with the capacity to develop these skills, there are some children that require additional support. A child that has attention difficulties may miss cues that can help assess performance on a task, since he is not able to focus. A child on the Autism spectrum may get stuck doing something the same way every time due to inflexible thinking and miss out on the experience of problem solving through a method that didn’t work. There are many reasons children struggle with executive function, but the brain is always adapting based on our environment and experiences. Therefore, your child can further develop these skills and become independent with school work, organizing their belongings, problem solving social issues, and more.
If your child needs constant reminders to manage their belongings, complete their homework, or cannot seem to organize social plans, then he or she may have difficulties with executive function and may require additional supports to be successful with these tasks.
Signs that your child may be struggling with executive function include:
☐ Feeling overwhelmed by projects and not knowing where to begin
☐ Difficulty finding items due to disorganized locker, binder, or desk
☐ Forgetting homework assignments or directives
☐ Struggling to see multiple ways of doing the same thing (difficulty problem solving)
☐ Difficulty completing tasks despite having good ideas
☐ Difficulty recognizing how much time tasks will take or finishing them in a reasonable time frame