Understanding Executive Functions

July 19, 2012

Executive functions are the ‘command and control processes’, the ‘management systems/functions’ of the brain. Weaknesses or developmental delays in the executive functions and self-regulation are key problems of children, teens, and adults with ADHD (as well as other brain-based disorders). For kids with ADHD, it’s these executive skill difficulties that cause them the most problems at school. Just what constitutes all of the executive function (EF) skills or components has not yet been determined or agreed upon by researchers. But, many believe the following to be among the EFs:

– Inhibition – the ability to stop, put on the brakes, and think before making a response.
– Planning, organizing, and prioritizing
– Activation/initiation – arousing effort and motivation to begin an action or work on tasks (particularly those which are tedious or not of interest)
– Sustaining attention – maintaining alertness and focus, and resisting distractions
– Working memory – ability to hold information in mind long enough to do something with it (solve a problem, complete a task)
– Self-monitoring/metacognition – being aware of and self-checking one’s own behavior, thought processes, and comprehension
– Shifting/flexibility – ability to be adaptable and adjust or shift when needed (one’s thinking, actions, behavior)
– Goal directed persistence – perseverance, maintaining the effort and follow-through with actions needed to achieve goals
– Emotional control – ability to manage and self-regulate one’s frustrations and emotions.

For a better understanding of executive functions, I highly recommend this video by Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University. In future blogs, I will share strategies and resources for building executive skills and helping kids compensate for EF weaknesses.

This 5-minute video provides an overview of Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function, the joint Working Paper from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child and the National Forum on Early Childhood Policy and Programs: http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/reports_and_working_papers/worki…

For more information, please visit: http://developingchild.harvard.edu/

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