Executive Functioning Disorder

August 4, 2015

Young children often have trouble getting organized, keeping track of time and getting things done on time. Case-and-point, most youngsters I know do not have clean bedrooms and need to be reminded to get their homework and projects done in a timely manner. Developmentally these brain tasks are difficult to learn and take lots of practice.  For some children, however, these tasks are extremely hard.

These mental skills are all under the heading Executive Functions.  If a child, then is having trouble with these types of mental skills they are many times diagnosed with Executive Functioning Disorder.  Let’s take a look at what this disorder is and how it can impact learning.

What are executive functioning skills and how might it impact a student in school?

In general, executive functioning skills are the mental tasks that enable people to plan, organize, remember things, prioritize, pay attention and get started on tasks. They also help people use and synthesize past information to solve a current problem.

A child or an adult, for that matter, with this disorder may have trouble in school in several ways.  For example, getting started on a project or paper may be difficult for a student with this disorder.  Tasks may need to be broken down into smaller steps so that the child knows what needs to be done by when.  In addition, a student with this disorder may have trouble concentrating and paying attention to the details of an assignment and may need reminders and redirection regularly.  Special educators and teachers may need to restate the directions in several ways for the student to understand and be able to get started on a task.  Transitioning from one task to another may also be difficult for a student with this disorder.  He/she may need to be given an agenda and alerted prior to changing activities that a change is imminent.

Executive Functioning Skills include: 

  • Impulse Control – This includes the ability to stop and think about what is happening and what the consequences of actions might be.
  • Emotional Control – In the face of negative feedback or a bad outcome can the child handle their emotions?
  • Flexibility – This refers to a student’s ability to change directions and “go with the flow”.
  • Planning – Can the child or adult make a plan and understand the steps needed to finish a project?
  • Organization – Does the student keep track of their belongings and have a method to keep information organized?

These are some of the mental tasks needed to be successful at executive functions.  Obviously developmental stage can play a part in the growth of each skill.  After being evaluated by a special education team and possibly the child’s pediatrician, a school can begin to set reasonable goals to aid in executive functioning issues.