Executive function is a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action. People use it to perform activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space.
In school, at home or at work, we use executive functioning to:
- Make plans
- Keep track of time and finish work on time
- Keep track of more than one thing at once
- Meaningfully include past knowledge in discussions
- Evaluate ideas and reflect on our work
- Change our minds and make mid-course corrections while thinking, reading and writing
- Ask for help or seek more information when we need it
- Engage in group dynamics
- Wait to speak until we’re called on
A student may have problems with executive function when he or she has trouble:
- Planning projects
- Comprehending how much time a project will take to complete
- Telling stories (verbally or in writing), struggling to communicate details in an organized, sequential manner
- Memorizing and retrieving information from memory
- Initiating activities or tasks, or generating ideas independently
- Retaining information while doing something with it, for example, remembering a phone number while dialing
What to do if you suspect you or your child is having executive functioning problems:
There are many effective strategies to help with executive function challenges:
- Take step-by-step approaches to work; rely on visual organizational aids.
- Use tools like time organizers, computers or watches with alarms.
- Prepare visual schedules and review them several times a day.
- Ask for written directions with oral instructions whenever possible.
- Plan and structure transition times and shifts in activities.
- Create checklists and “to do” lists, estimating how long tasks will take.
- Break long assignments into chunks and assign time frames for completing each chunk.
- Use visual calendars at to keep track of long-term assignments, due dates, chores and activities.
- Use management software such as the Franklin Day Planner, Palm Pilot or Lotus Organizer.
- Be sure to write the due date on top of each assignment.
Managing Space and Materials
- Organize work space.
- Minimize clutter.
- Consider having separate work areas with complete sets of supplies for different activities.
- Schedule a weekly time to clean and organize the work space.
- Make a checklist for getting through assignments. For example, a student’s checklist could include such items as: get out pencil and paper; put name on paper; put due date on paper; read directions; etc.
- Meet with a teacher or supervisor on a regular basis to review work; troubleshoot problems.
For specific help for your family member suffering from Executive functioning disorders/problems, contact Special Needs NJ (973) 534-3402