Exective Functioning (EF) might be something you have heard about in relation to ADHD and other neurodevelopmental conditions. So what exactly is executive functioning?
Well imagine you are busy working running your own business, you are having virtual meetings in the morning, then you the feed the cat, pop a dish into the oven for dinner and speak to your parents on the phone. This process involves you planning, focussing and being flexible. The type of skills involved in what seems like an average day involve your valuable executive function skills.
All children are born with the ability to develop these important mental skills which include self awareness, working memory, self control, flexible thinking, planning and organisation.
It might help to explain what some of these terms mean. Working memory is the ability to hold information in mind and be able to put it to use. Flexible thinking is being able to see problems from different angles and perspectives. Self control is the ability to stop and not act on impulses. You can see that these skills are really important in being able to function well in life and that all young people can struggle with these but with maturity these skills improve.
These are the important skills which helps us to start a project and complete it, involving the prefrontal cortex part of the brain. We all have executive function skills and there is the potential to further develop these over time and at different rates. Executive functioning builds up into the young adult years. We know that some children like those with ADHD require additional support or more scaffolding to help build these skills or more time to complete tasks.
Executive functioning deficits do not mean that the child is not smart or intelligent but identifying weakness in these skills can be helpful as strategies can then be put in place.
Executive Functioning does improve over time and there are many things which parents and teachers can do to help children with these difficulties through classroom strategies and support.
In a classroom or other educational settings, there are a few strategies which can be helpful.
Regular prompts, posting schedules and using visual timetables can help to keep students on track. Helping students to break down work into manageable chunks and providing opportunities for reflection and encouraging continuous improvement can make a difference. Remember that executive functioning is a skill which will continue to improve and that incremental improvements are key here.
In the Eleos Clinic Blog, we will describe further strategies which can be used to help develop these key skills.