What is executive function? And why do we need to know about it?
Executive functioning relates to our ability to regulate, plan and organise ourselves, as well as concentrate and hold things in our working memory. These skills are controlled by a part of the brain known as the frontal lobe.
If a person has challenges with executive functioning, we’re likely to see this impact on many areas of their life – how they go about their day to day tasks and learning.
The following are some of the signs you might see if a person is struggling with executive functioning:
- Self control – where someone may constantly seem to act or speak impulsively without thinking about what they’re doing, or where they seem to have little control over their emotions or in regulating how they feel or interact with the world. (An example of this might be in a school setting with a student who constantly interrupts their teacher.)
- Working memory – where someone struggles to remember what they’re doing, loses track of what they’re thinking, or seems distracted by other things.
- Planning and organising – where someone has difficulty in working out where to begin a task or difficulty gathering materials for a task. (For young people, this might play out at school with tasks not being done or materials being left in a locker or at home. For an adult, this might play out as someone not knowing where to begin with the housework, or not planning for ingredients in the pantry to make dinner.)
Whilst the difficulties that some people have with executive functioning can be frustrating to those around them, we MUST remember that it’s not something that the person is doing on purpose. And we need to work to support them and to help them develop strategies that they can use to support themselves.
Try one of the following:
- Use plenty of visual reminders and prompts to help with remembering things. Visual supports are invaluable for people who need a little extra help with processing information!
- Work alongside a person to help them understand what is involved in a task and how tasks can be broken down into manageable ‘chunks’. Chunking tasks or information allows for easier planning and processing of ‘where to begin’ and ‘what to do next’ rather than everything being overwhelming.
These two strategies are just a sample of what we can do to support executive functioning.
We’ll be talking more about executive functioning in coming posts, so look out for more ideas!