What is Executive Functioning?
Executive functioning refers to our ability to self-regulate, plan, organize, multitask, shift attention, prioritize tasks, and manage our "to-do list" mentally. Executive functioning occurs primarily in the frontal lobe of the brain. This is not an ability that children are born with, they are born with the ability to develop executive functioning strategies as the frontal lobe develops.
An analogy I enjoy is that the brain's executive functioning ability is similar to the job description of a CEO of a large company. The CEO is responsible for the higher-order tasks of a company: planning, organizing, time & concept management, the ability to shift priorities based on the needs of the company, etc.
Often children with learning disorders struggle with executive functioning. They have difficulty managing homework assignments because they aren't able to plan and sequence the steps, they have an inability to manage time, they may have a hard time concentrating and focusing. There are very specific and systematic strategies that we use to help with homework for children with executive functioning difficulties.
Because attention difficulties often co-occur with reading problems - it is often helpful to incorporate strategies to support attention and organization as well.
Check out this great article by Understood explaining Executive Functioning Issues in children.
What Does Executive Functioning Therapy Look Like?
- Our executive functioning support is individualized based on student need. We offer three different treatment models: weekly sessions, monthly consultations, and Executive Functioning groups that meet for 10-12 sessions to work through the EF strategies one session at a time.
- We focus on strategies to support working memory, time management, planning and organizing, flexible problem-solving, and self-monitoring.
- Therapy sessions are geared to support direct student skill learning, parent support strategies, and teacher/school-based recommendations.
What Can I do to Support My Student that Struggles Completing Assignments and Organizing His or Her Work?
Increase External Structure
- Preferential seating away from distractions both at home and in the classroom.
- Allow for brief mini-breaks from academic material (movement breaks like passing out papers, materials, or erasing the board could work too) at home try setting a timer and then performing less structured tasks during these mini-breaks.
- Allow the use of a "fidget" or small, non-distracting item the child can manipulate or hold during class can make a big difference in allowing them to maintain attention (See some non-distracting fidget ideas in the Tips & Tricks blog soon!)
- Utilize nonverbal cuing (such as a hand-signal) to gain attention where necessary
- Keep workspace clear reducing distractions wherever possible
- Allow the student a quiet place where they can self-monitor their behavior
- Create a visual schedule or manipulative checklist for tasks, having a schedule they can check and manipulate will help them stay on task for longer periods, it also gives students a sense of control
- Provide models for how to complete a task (color code problems where possible)
- Directions and assignments should be very clear and simple, given one step at a time (provide directions visually, orally, and in print)
- Large projects should be broken up into smaller pieces to help the child learn how to plan out and complete a multi-step process
- Use a graphic organizer to break work into sections, help the student plan out what items they need to complete a task, how long it will take, and what it will look like when it's finished.