6 Facts about Executive functioning (EF) that you probably didn’t know

6 Facts about Executive functioning (EF) that you probably didn’t know

Do you wonder why your child has trouble doing the simplest things, why they blurt out something complete inappropriate Infront of others, why they forget something you just told them a minute ago and why they misbehave in class or have trouble adapting to changes in routines?

These behaviors can be attributed to several different disorders or to a deficit in executive functioning.

Let’s first define with Executive functioning is;

Executive functioning is the “CEO” of our BRAIN-Yep the BOSS or your Brain.

They are a set of cognitive processing skills that help us prioritize, plan, problem solve and sustain attention and effort towards our goals.

The specific cognitive processing skills involved are;

  • Working memory which is what helps us hold information in our brain while we work with it. (For example, if you are told a string of numbers such as 7-5-3-2-6-3-2 and then you are asked to say it backwards or in order from smallest to largest). It also has to do with making problem solving decisions considering available information.
  • Mental Flexibility allows us to multitask without losing sense of the tasks at hand. It helps us adapt to changes easily and accommodating information we already know with new information.

Now that you have a clear picture of what Executive Functioning (EF) “looks like” let’s review some facts.

Below are 6 Facts about EF that you probably didn’t know;

  • 1) EF is sometimes tied to ADHD but not all children who have deficits with EF have ADHD. They would have to meet the other criteria of the symptoms of ADHD such as being hyperverbal, hyperactivity, fidgeting etc..).
  • 2) Children with EF deficits can have average and above average IQ scores.
  • 3)Deficits in EF will not improve with just discipline, children need specific strategies that will help them improve their skills.
  • 4) Children with untreated EF deficits may develop other psychological disorders as adults. This makes sense; think about a child with untreated EF deficits who thinks that he is not good enough and in response to this may develop depression, anxiety and even substance use to cope with his feelings in the future.
  • 5) Children with EF deficits may experience difficulties regulating their emotions. This also makes sense since children with EF deficits may exhibit impulsivity.
  • 6) EF is located in the Frontal lobe (front part of your brain behind your forehead). This part of the brain controls for thinking, planning, organizing, problem solving, emotions, behavior control and personality. How do we know this? Studies have shown that some people who initially do not have deficits in EF but who then have a traumatic brain injury (by car accident or other traumatic way) begin to experience deficits in these areas.

Some common behaviors associated with EF deficits are difficulties with (but not limited to);

  • Recalling important information-Especially what is just heard or said.
  • Organizing, planning, and prioritizing.
  • Starting tasks and staying focused on them to completion.
  • Understanding and acknowledging different points of view.
  • Regulating emotions.
  • Monitoring what you are doing.
  • Have trouble following directions.
  • Regulating tantrums when rules or routines change.
  • Switching focus from one task to another.
  • Controlling their emotions and inflexible about changes.
  • Keeping track of their belongings.
  • Managing their time.

So, what do you do if you suspect that your child has a deficit in EF?

  • Obtain a psychoeducational evaluation-usually from a Licensed Psychologist. These evaluations require an IQ assessment that will test for working memory deficit and other tests that can rule out impulsivity, set shifting difficulties and other possible disorders.

  • Interventions based on:

  • Setting schedules.
  • Token systems-incentives.
  • Removing distractions from the environment.
  • Breaking big tasks into smaller tasks.
  • Delay gratification-Teaching to wait for preferred items/reinforcers or obtain a bigger/better item when they are able to wait for it.
  • Using different sensory stimuli to recall and learn information.
  • Helping child understand EF and ways they can self-manage.