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.
Many people with LD struggle with executive function, which can make activities like planning, organizing, strategizing, remembering details and managing time and space difficult. Problems with executive function—a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action—can be seen at any age and often contribute to the challenges individuals with LD face in academic learning.
Remember the day when someone rattled off a phone number while you just hoped against hope you'd recall the string of digits as you were dialing? That was working memory toiling away. With the advent of cell phones, you may no longer use it this way very often. But working memory still plays a central role in learning and our daily lives.
Does your child have a weakness with verbal (auditory) or visual-spatial working memory? If so, you may find that it is greatly interfering with academic achievement. Fortunately, there are many ways to help—from teaching ways to compensate to lifestyle changes to brain-training techniques.
Here are nine key terms and phrases doctors and other professionals use to describe executive functioning skills and the way your child thinks and learns.
I have often written about learning strategies, and how important it is to help students become “strategic” in their approach to learning, and I discussed some ways that teachers can promote student learning by both teaching and reinforcing the use of effective strategies to their students and by imbedding effective teaching strategies into their classroom instruction. What was missing from that discussion was any real focus on the kinds of “thinking” students need to do when they are confronted with different types of learning challenges and opportunities. These “thinking ingredients” fall under the umbrella term “executive functioning.”
As the parent of a school-age child with learning disabilities (LD), you know that basic patterns of thought such as controlling impulses, flexibility, planning, and organizing must steadily develop and improve as a child advances in school. If they don’t, children fail in small ways and larger ones. Each assignment not completed—or completed but not turned in—each lost notebook and late, hurried project, takes a toll on a child’s self-esteem (and a parent’s patience). Performance anxiety becomes more and more exhausting. The stress of feeling overwhelmed leads some children to misbehave, others to withdraw. Some children decide it’s less scary not to try than it is to try and fail.
My teen has regular meltdowns, even when minor things go wrong.
I try to help Jan with her homework, but she gets frustrated when I show her an approach that may not be the same as the way she was taught in school. She gets stuck doing things over and over so that homework drags on for hours. (Parent of 6th grader)
Working memory, also known as short-term memory, is an executive functioning skill that is key to learning and everyday life. If you suspect your child might have working memory issues, this quiz may give you some solid clues. Read the questions below and keep track of how many times you answered “yes.”
Zach never proofreads. I have to remind him to check his homework every night and I feel like a broken record! No matter what I say, his work is still filled with careless mistakes. When he has a math test, he seems to understand the concepts perfectly, but he gets so many answers wrong because of calculation errors. He puts a lot of time and effort into his writing but his punctuation and spelling are awful. No matter how hard he works, his grades are still so low. (Parent of a 10th grader).
If your child has executive functioning issues, you know how real these issues are—and how big an impact they can have. Whether you’re new to the topic or not, though, you might have trouble separating fact from fiction. Here are five common myths about executive function, put to rest.
How can you find anything in here?
The report is due tomorrow? And you haven’t started it?
How could you forget to turn in your homework? I helped you with it!
What’s one thing that makes for a parent’s unhappy day? Getting a phone call or email from school, informing you that your child—who may spend lots of time doing homework—hasn’t turned anything in for six weeks. This wake-up call may be your first indication that your child is having trouble in school. The information is doubly disconcerting when you find, buried in your child’s heavy backpack, lots of completed homework that was never turned in.
Children are expected to mature cognitively and emotionally as well as physically. Generally, as children grow older, their executive function skills like planning, organizing, strategizing and self-monitoring improve. But many children with learning disabilities (LD) and ADHD lag behind their peers in these skills.