It sounds like part of a job description for a high level position in some big company.
But that’s not it at all.
Executive functions are cognitive skills which help us control emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and actions.
If your child is having trouble with executive function, pediatric occupational therapists can help them develop the skills they will need to succeed in school and in life.
Furthermore, if you’re the one having trouble, and noticing issues at work or just managing day to day life, occupational therapy for adults can help with executive function deficits.
Keep reading to find out more about what executive function is, how to recognize it, and how occupational therapists can help.
What Is Executive Function?
Executive functions are the skills used for getting things done.
They include things like goal setting, planning and prioritizing tasks, and time management.
Poor executive function skills are not a sign of lower intelligence.
Children and adults alike who are extremely smart and bright can face challenges due to struggles related to their executive function skills.
Otherwise very smart individuals might miss deadlines due to poor planning and organization skills.
Some may be seen as “too emotional” by their peers if they have troubles with emotional regulation.
But there are ways to practice and improve on these skills, to make navigating school, work, and life in general easier.
What Are The Different Elements Of Executive Function?
Executive function consists of eight main areas, which include:
- Working memory: Holding information in short term memory while using it
- Attention control: Being able to focus on relevant information and ignore distractions
- Planning and organization: Creating and following a plan to reach a goal
- Cognitive inhibition: Suppression of impulses and irrelevant thoughts
- Cognitive flexibility: Switching between tasks or strategies as required
- Inhibitory control: Being able to stop ongoing actions
- Problem solving: Reviewing a situation and finding solutions
- Emotional regulation: Managing emotions and controlling behavior
How To Tell If Your Child Has Executive Function Difficulties
There are a number of signs to watch out for which may indicate your child has difficulties with executive functions.
Issues with time management may include trouble switching between tasks and being late for school or other scheduled activities due to poor planning.
Poor performance in school may stem from trouble digesting information, not having with problem solving skills, trouble with memorization, or not turning in homework on time.
Organization issues could look like being unable to keep their room, locker, or desk tidy and regularly forgetting or even losing important items.
How To Tell If You Have Executive Function Difficulties
Are you reading through the elements of executive function and thinking these same struggles seem to apply to your own life?
The publication Attitude has created a self test for adults to take if they think they may have executive function difficulties.
It looks at factors such as:
- Are you easily distracted
- If you have time management issues
- Whether you become angry and frustrated easily
- How quickly you lose interest in tasks
- If clutter is an issue for you
- How easily can you switch between tasks
- Whether you are forgetful
- Do you have trouble starting new tasks
Although this test is not able to diagnose you, it can be used as a first step to share with a specialist if you are seeking a diagnosis.
Is Executive Function Difficulties An ADHD Symptom?
Some of the symptoms of inattentive attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) include:
- Poor organization skills
- Losing important items such as keys or wallet
- Being easily distracted
And if these seem very similar to the characteristics of executive dysfunction, that’s probably because it is, indeed, a symptom of ADHD.
However, not everyone who has executive function will also have ADHD.
There are a number of other conditions associated with executive function disorders, including language disorders and dyslexia.
Dyslexia is a condition in which a person has trouble with reading due to trouble with word recognition.
Language disorders are issues with either expressing oneself with language, understanding others meaning, or both.
How Can Executive Function Deficits Affect You Or Your Child?
Executive functioning deficits can have real impacts on your life.
Tasks which are easy for others can become overwhelming.
For example, if you lack cognitive flexibility, or in other words, the ability to adapt to changes, you could have trouble adjusting to new environments and changes in routine.
This can lead to being easily frustrated and may inhibit growth.
Poor emotional regulation may mean you have trouble dealing with stress and can lead to mood swings.
In your child, executive function deficits can lead to problems in school, and issues with building and maintaining friendships.
Poor inhibitory control can result in impulsive and possibly destructive behaviors at school.
A lack of attention control could mean having trouble paying attention in school, or poor emotional regulation may lead to emotional outbursts.
Do Children Grow Out Of Executive Function Deficits?
The idea that kids with executive functioning challenges will eventually “grow out” of them is prevalent.
This, however, is false.
Issues with executive functioning are due to the way your brain works, and not because of being immature, or just not caring.
It is possible though, to develop and improve these skills with proper support through strategies and practice.
How Can Occupational Therapy For Executive Function Deficits Help?
If you or your child is struggling with executive function deficits, occupational therapy could help.
Occupational therapy helps people learn skills which are required for daily life.
Let’s look closer at some of the things they may do:
1. Assessing For Executive Function Deficits
An occupational therapy assessment will help your occupational therapist identify specifically which aspects of executive functioning you’re struggling with.
They may use interviews, standardized testing, and clinical observation to learn about what skills you have and where improvements are needed.
Additional assessment and observation in a home, school, or work setting could also be used to give a more fulsome view of how you act in day to day situations.
2. Improving Executive Function Skills
Once your occupational therapist has done their assessment, they’ll create a plan to address your specific executive functioning deficits, based on your goals and preferences.
This can involve targeted practice and exercises.
It will generally focus on developing the underlying processes required to perform executive functioning skills.
Examples would be working on memorizing sequences of words and numbers, or practicing focusing on specific tasks.
3. Developing Skills To Compensate
Compensatory skills are strategies and interventions which aim to limit the effects of executive functioning deficits.
These don’t, however, address the underlying cognitive processes which may be lacking.
Compensatory strategies could be using a planner to track tasks and appointments, practicing a “stop think act” approach to limit impulsive behavior, or setting timers to pace activities.
4. Adapting Your Environment
Making adaptations to your environment can offer added support when you’re dealing with deficits in executive function.
Examples include reducing distractions in your workspace, using visual schedules to help stay on track or using auditory cues like an alarm to indicate it’s time to switch activities.
5. Building Greater Self Awareness
Improving self awareness and self regulation can help you to reflect on emotions and actions.
Self talk can be used to help with motivation towards goals, or help with problem solving.
For instance, reflecting on a task is a way to identify what was done well, and how you can improve when approaching related tasks.
Book Your Appointment With New Horizons Wellness Services Today
Do you struggle to stay on task during your workday?
Is your child prone to emotional outbursts at school?
Are your friends frustrated with you because you’re always late?
Does it feel like you’re always bugging your kid to keep their room clean?
Whether you’re personally dealing with executive functioning issues, you think your child might be, or both, we’re New Horizons Wellness Services and we can help.
Offering occupational therapy services in Tigard for both children and adults alike, we can help develop skills like focus, time management, and organization.
Book your appointment with New Horizons Wellness Services today.
Yours in Health,New Horizons Wellness Services
13333 SW 68th Pkwy,
Tigard, OR 97223
New Horizons Wellness Services provides a true multidisciplinary approach to mental & physical health treatments for children, adults and families.