What exactly are executive functions, you may wonder? Teachers or evaluators may say this is an area of difficulty for your child, but what do they really mean? Executive functions are the skills that allow us to plan and organize our work; to solve problems in a flexible way and to change our approach when this is needed; to figure out the rules of a task; to work in a logical, sequential way, and to monitor our performance for accuracy and completeness. Executive functions allow your child to handle multiple assignments from different teachers, to break down larger tasks into smaller units of work, and to manage his or her time effectively.
In elementary school, your child’s teacher should be providing most of the executive functioning skills, but in middle and high school these skills are increasingly expected of your children. They are rarely taught in an explicit way, since kids are expected to “pick them up” in the course of regular instruction and assignments. Unfortunately, for many kids this isn’t enough, and they struggle to meet academic expectations as the work gets more complicated and more long-term assignments are given. There is some correlation with attention deficit disorder, since many children who are inattentive may struggle to pick up these higher level skills (because they aren’t paying attention!), but many other children who do pay attention still lack the cognitive maturity, processing, or memory skills that would help them with executive functioning.
For parents who want to help their children who are struggling to acquire these essential skills, the first step is a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation. This will include multiple tests that look at a whole range of executive functioning skills: planning, organization, sequencing, the ability to “figure out” the rules of a task and stick to them, problem solving, flexible thinking, and checking one’s work for accuracy. The goal of this evaluation should be to determine and describe your child’s learning style, including areas of weakness that interfere with academic success and effective progress in school.
At Neurodevelopment Associates, a neuropsychological evaluation will include an assessment of your child’s executive functioning skills and the right recommendations for support or accommodation. Click here to learn more.