by Wasayef Bsharat

What are Executive Functions? Executive functions are a collection of cognitive processes that encompass various mental abilities crucial for partaking in goal-directed behavior. A critical aspect of assessing individuals’ performance and need of support in work or educational settings is the comprehension of executive functions and the identification of any potential deficits. The three primary executive functions essential for cognitive functioning and overall quality of life are working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control. The concept of working memory pertains to an individual’s capacity to temporarily retain and recollect information for the purpose of task completion within a specific timeframe. For example, the ability to retain a phone number, recollect past experiences, and execute multi-step instructions such as preparing a peanut butter sandwich. The concept of cognitive flexibility entails the ability to transition between various ideas and tasks while concurrently upholding a coherent train of thought. The development of this skill is essential in facilitating everyday problem-solving, reasoning, and decision-making. Inhibitory control refers to the cognitive capability of managing impulsive responses, regulating thoughts, and suppressing maladaptive behaviors, thereby enabling individuals to withstand external distractions and sustain attention towards particular objectives. These executive functions are crucial in the everyday functioning of individuals and have significant impacts on multiple domains such as academic, social, and professional aspects. Impairments in executive functioning can arise from a range of factors, including but not limited to brain injury, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism and the aging process. The Effects on Daily Functioning Executive functions play a significant role in a variety of daily activities, encompassing: the capacities of planning and organizing, problem-solving, task initiation and completion, working memory, inhibition of impulses, and emotional regulation are essential cognitive skills that contribute to effective functioning in various domains of life. These capabilities enable individuals to efficiently allocate their time, establish and accomplish objectives, and effectively manage stress. Furthermore, they assist individuals in engaging with others in a manner that is socially acceptable. When executive functions are operating optimally, individuals can effectively address the daily challenges of life. In instances of impaired executive functions, an individual may encounter challenges in the aforementioned domains. This phenomenon may result in challenges within educational, professional, and personal environments impacting an individual’s overall quality of life. An instance of a child with executive function deficits may exhibit challenges in the completion of homework assignments, following instructions, or consistent focus on assigned tasks. Individuals with executive function deficits in adulthood may experience challenges in effectively managing their financial responsibilities, sustaining employment, and cultivating interpersonal relationships. Furthermore, in conjunction with cognitive difficulties attributed to executive function deficits, there exists a potential vulnerability to the onset of psychological distress and mental health disorders. Individuals with executive function deficits are predisposed to a higher likelihood of experiencing anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. These negative implications signify the importance of early intervention. Support Strategies  At-School Strategies:
  • Visualization: Provide students with a visual schedule of a structured schedule for the day. To allow for more flexibility create the schedule steps to be added and removed from the schedule. This can overall help with time management, flexibility, and goal completion
  • Self-Monitoring and Awareness: Provide students with the opportunity to recognize and identify their struggles, strengths, and emotions. This will help them develop self-awareness and regulation skills over time.
At-Home Strategies:
  • Planning and Organization: Set up a schedule and steps to project completion. Providing steps and a structure can help students plan to effectively complete their tasks and necessary responsibilities (i.e. brushing teeth)
  • Time Awareness and Management: Start setting up countdowns or timers while individuals are completing their tasks. This will allow for students to practice time awareness and focus abilities.
At-Work Strategies:
  • Task Breakdown: If an individual has a large project deadline, assist them to break it down into microtasks so they could effectively complete the task. For instance, if an individual is preparing a presentation they can break it down into smaller steps by first starting on gathering information, then writing it on the slides, then putting in images.
  • Productivity Applications: Utilize digital tools to assist you in everyday work responsibilities including e-calendar, to-do list apps, and time management clocks.
Stigma and Misconceptions Surrounding Executive Functions Myth: Kids outgrow their executive functioning challenges Fact: Individuals with executive functioning deficits have atypical neurological development which in turn leads to these challenges becoming less manageable and more noticeable as they grow older. Myth: Individuals with executive functioning challenges have lower IQs Fact: Impairments in executive function are found across various levels of intellectual functioning, including individuals with above-average or high IQ. Several scientific studies have identified correlations between executive dysfunction and creativity. Myth: Executive functions are permanent and there’s no hope for a person with executive dysfunctions Fact: Targeted interventions and practice can lead to executive functions to be developed and strengthened. Online Assessment Tools Disclaimer: There are no specific perfect assessments for executive functions. However, these have been examined in research to be the most reliable. Apps
  • Virtual Visual Schedule
  • Choiceworks: Kid friendly visual daily calendar, mood regulator, and more
  • CourseNotes: Colored coded notes, organization, and to-do list
Crista A. Hopp, M.A.
Crista A. Hopp, M.A.

Crista is trained to coach as an Academic coach, Executive Function (EF) coach, and individuals with ADHD. Crista can be reached through her website at www.ConnectedPathwaysCoaching.com/contact-us.