“He leaves everything to the last minute!”
“Then he forgets what he is supposed to be doing.”
“How can he possibly complete the project in the time that he has allocated to it?”
“He doesn’t know where to start.”
If these comments sound familiar to you, then your child may possible have difficulty with Executive Function.
Executive Function refers to the multiple tasks that the brain needs to do in order to think, act and solve problems. Difficulties with Executive Function are prevalent in, but not exclusive to, children with attention deficit disorder (ADD). The child may present as being extremely disorganized.
There are 2 areas of Executive Functioning:
1) Organization – gathering information and structuring it.
2) Regulation – Evaluating the information and modifying your response
In order to organize information effectively one needs to be able to:
– Pay attention
– Hold information in memory (working memory)
– Sequence ideas
– Problem solve
– Select relevant sensory information
In order to regulate/control the information one needs to be able to:
– Initiate action
– Monitor internal and external stimuli
– Exhibit self control
– Make decisions based on the information received
For example, if a child is in a lesson that he finds boring, he may be tempted to put his head on the desk and go to sleep. The executive system reminds you that a) it is bad manners to sleep in a classroom, b) even though the lesson is boring, you need to try and pay attention in order to learn about the subject matter being covered because it is important for later examinations.
Executive Function difficulties may present as learning difficulties in children.
The following difficulties may occur:
- Difficulty planning and completing projects
- Difficulty identifying the steps and materials required to complete a task.
- Problems understanding how long a project will take to complete and often runs out of time.
- May find it difficult to prioritize the the stages of the project. They may spend time with irrelevant details and fail to complete the ‘big picture.’
- Difficulty telling a story in the right sequence with important details and minimal irrelevant details.
- May lose important papers or fail to hand in completed work.
- Difficulty moving from one task to another or adjusting their plan when there is an unforeseen event.
- Trouble communicating details in an organized, sequential manner;
- Problems initiating activities or tasks, or generating ideas independently
- Difficulty retaining information while doing something with it such as remembering a phone number while dialing or following instructions accurately in the classroom.
- Difficulty reading social cues. They may talk too much, interrupt or misinterpret information.
Strategies to help with Executive Function
- Give clear step-by-step instructions with visual organizational aids.
- Make use of planners. Model the use of the planner for your child by incorporating it into your every-day activities. Planners can be digital and/or paper based. E.g. google calendars/ wall planners
- Timers: Using a clock/stop watch will help the child understand how much time is allocated for a task.
- Provide visual schedules and review them frequently. E.g in the morning before school, when your child comes home from school and in the evening in order to plan for the next day.
- Create checklists and “to do” lists
- Use positive reinforcement to help kids stay on task.
- Break long assignments into smaller tasks and assign mini-timelines to complete each task. If children become overwhelmed with lists of tasks, share only a few at a time.
- Ensure that there is a allocated work space for your child to do homework. Ensure that the materials required are close at hand so that your child can stay on task and reduce time spent looking for materials.
- Meet with the teacher on a regular basis to review work and troubleshoot problems.
It is important to recognize the difficulties experienced by children who have difficulty planning and organizing. Providing strategies and structure will make life a lot easier.