Executive functions are known as a set of higher cognitive processes essential for the cognitive control of various behaviours. It is the mental process that enables us to plan, focus, organise and complete multiple tasks successfully at once.
The following analogy sums up Executive Functioning perfectly! Think about the air traffic controllers at an airport. It safely manages both the arrivals and departures of countless aircraft on several runways, which in turn is like how our brain works when needing to filter out distractions, prioritise tasks, achieve goals and self-regulate when impulses occur.
Occupational Therapists like to break down Executive Functioning skills into eight categories.
- Impulse Control/Inhibit
Not acting on an impulse or stopping one’s inappropriate behaviour at a given time;
- Emotional Control
Modulating and controlling one’s emotional response appropriate to the situation or stressor;
- Flexible Thinking
Allows a child to respond appropriately to an unexpected change of events;
- Working Memory
Holding information in mind to complete a specific and related task;
The skill involved in evaluating one’s work;
- Planning and Sequencing
Anticipating future events, setting goals, and developing the appropriate steps ahead of time to carry out the activity;
- Task Initiation
Allows us to act and get started on tasks; and
Allows your child to keep on track of effectively and efficiently achieving the desired outcome.
How do Occupational Therapists work on these skills throughout the intervention process?
With the above points in mind, a child who presents with executive functioning difficulties may also present with the following challenges in the home, school and community environment, which will form the basis of our therapy sessions:
Focus on the child’s actions and impulse control, usually concerning their specific task demands and environmental factors.
Teaching kids the ability to identify, respond and change one’s emotion, behaviour and attention to a task or situation that is socially acceptable.
Assist children in controlling their ability to engage in reciprocal interaction with peers (both verbally and non-verbally), learning to compromise with others, adjusting to change comfortably, and identifying and following the expected behaviour in social interactions.
Teaching coping strategies to ensure a degree of ease when children are completing academic tasks.
Attention and Concentration
Learning regulation techniques to assist children in sustaining effort, completing activities without distraction, and maintaining that concentration until task completion.
If you want to kick start your child’s executive functioning journey at home, here’s a list of strategies to assist you in the process:
- Establish routines to consolidate skills and memory of what needs to be done
- Improve the working environment by decluttering their workplace and limiting distractions
- Use calendars to keep track of specific dates and events, e.g. chores, activities, assignments.
- Create a family “to do” list.
- Make a visual schedule for specific routines of the day, e.g. morning routine, afternoon and night. Refer to our blog on how to make a visual schedule to assist you here!
- Use aides, such as timers and alarms to keep track of time.
- Incorporate a multisensory approach to learning and following instructions – this could be written, visual or oral.