Understanding your child with Executive Functioning difficulties

“He can never find his shoes and he forgot his lunch… again!”

“I forgot”
“We went to the shops, I have four dogs…. I need to go!” – – “Huh?”
“I just feel so… I DON’T KNOW!!” *cries*
“I can’t remember”
“Dad, I missed the bus again”
“I forget”
“I hit him because he was annoying! I didn’t even think!”
“I can’t sleep, my brain is worrying”

Sound familiar?

Executive functioning skills encompass an important set of brain skills that “help you get stuff done”. We use the front part of our brain to process, control, remember and problem-solve and when this part of the brain isn’t working as well as it should, difficulties can align with attention and behaviour.

Broadly speaking, Executive functioning skills are:

  1. Working memory
    Holding information in the mind and using it almost instantly (an important skill for answering questions, learning/applying immediate knowledge and critical thinking).
  2. Flexible thinking
    Problem solving skills, dealing with change and using coping strategies
  3. Self-control
    Managing impulsive behaviour and emotional intelligence.

All these skills contribute to:

  • Planning
  • Organising
  • Time management
  • Meta cognition “thinking about what you know”
  • Self-regulation
  • Perseverance
  • Attention

Children with ADHD often have difficulties with their executive functioning skills as these skills are important for attention and self-regulation – which is the main deficits in ADHD! Children that have other learning disabilities including dyslexia and dyscalculia also struggle to use these skills to support learning and retention. Or, some people are just born with poor executive functioning challenges!
What are some clear signs that my child might have executive functioning difficulties?

Your child may have challenges with:

  • Organising themselves during craft activities, following a recipe (sequence-based learning/activities)
  • Understanding time and time concepts (before/after, then/next)
  • Being on time
  • Remembering parts to a story or remembering details you would expect a child of that age to remember (for example, who is picking them up from school)
  • Telling stories
  • Learning sight words
  • Starting activities or tasks
  • Answering basic comprehension questions of a book

Some tips for managing executive functioning difficulties:

  • Use simple language when you require your child to complete various steps (“first brush teeth, then pack bag”)
  • Use pictures to aid memory, attention and comprehension
  • Use bright, clear calendars
  • Child-friendly digital watch
  • Make schedules and put them all around the home!
  • Avoid noisy environments when with your child.

Speech Pathologists and Occupational Therapists are trained to support people with difficulties in this part of the brain and can work with the family to devise plans and strategies to help people with challenges in these areas.

For insight into the day-in-the-life of a child with Executive functioning challenges, see link below from “Understand”. https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/executive-functioning-issues/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-child-with-executive-functioning-issues

By Hannah Morton, Speech Pathologist at Sydney Speech Clinic