National Center for Learning Disabilities

Facebook Twitter Google Pinterest NCLD YouTube

Take Action

A- A A+

Does Your Child Have Executive Function Difficulties?

executive-function-to-doIn the business world, we think of “executives” as people whose role it is to make decisions, guide actions, provide feedback and lead others to positive outcomes. In the world of teaching and learning, the word “executive” can take on a similar meaning, especially when we talk about the ways that people get and stay organized, create and use strategies to accomplish assignments, reflect on how well we’re doing and decide if we’re working in the most efficient manner.

Executive function is the term we use to describe the mental processes that help connect past experience with present action. Activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space require that we use executive function skills. Another aspect of executive function is trouble with working memory, which is the active part of the memory system.

Dysfunction in executive skills is common in individuals with LD and even more so in those with ADHD, and causes significant difficulty with learning and behavior. Knowing that your child struggles with executive function is the first step in developing a plan to help.

The checklist below will help you start to think about if executive function may be an area of weakness for your child. It does not diagnose or even pinpoint a specific problem, but it can be helpful as a way to capture your observations and concerns and to start a conversation with your child’s school personnel or other professionals.

Thinking about the last six months, my child…

Has difficulty with paying attention
Is easily distracted
Requires many reminders to stay on task
Finds it difficult to set goals
Seems to struggle with making decisions
Has trouble identifying where to start on assignments
Focuses on either details or the big picture at the expense of the other
Has difficulty getting started on tasks, often seems to procrastinate
Struggles to comprehend how much time a project will take to complete
Takes longer than peers to complete homework and other tasks
Needs numerous prompts from adults to stay on-task
Loses track of time or assignment due dates
Forgets to turn in completed work
Struggles with keeping track of needed materials; often leaves materials at home or school
Finds checking his/her work very difficult (and may not do it at all)
Has trouble following multiple-step directions
Forgets what he/she is saying or doing in the middle of a task
Forgets the details of reading while reading or soon after finishing
Gets frustrated with changes in schedule or usual routines
Has difficulty shifting from one activity to another (especially when the rules/task demands change)
Struggles with shifting between information that is literal vs. figurative, past vs. present, etc.
“Gets stuck” on parts of tasks and can’t move forward
Seems to have difficulty controlling impulses—will say or do things without thinking about them first
Is easily frustrated
Often talks out of turn and/or interrupts others’ conversations

Issues related to executive functioning don’t always pop up during testing. However, understanding your child’s executive functioning profile is a way to better gauge what your child is experiencing and fine tune options for providing relief and support. If you’re wondering if you should be concerned with other aspects of your child’s learning and behavior, check out our Interactive LD Checklist.