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Executive Function Explained

Children, adolescents, and teens who struggle with executive function deficits typically face challenges in the following areas:

  • Organizing tasks, aspects of learning, and communication with teachers and other adults
  • Managing distractions
  • Using effective strategies to monitor homework, papers, and projects
  • Organizing thoughts and plans
  • Self-monitoring
  • Recognizing when problems need to be solved
  • Requesting support when needed
  • Anticipating likely outcomes
  • Modulating behavior and/or emotions
  • Using past experiences to effectively plan for future ones

Executive functioning becomes more seamless with development, repetition, experience, -and in many cases, effective coaching and support. Meeting expectations and achieving goals starts to seem more attainable when a child has developed the skills necessary for a positive outcome. It is more exciting to work toward our goals when success feels possible!

The same applies to adults.

The part of the brain that houses and drives executive functioning continues to develop well into our 20s, and never stops changing. This is why many adults struggle as they transition through college, enter the workforce, or live on their own for the first time.  Without fully developed executive functioning, it can be difficult to plan effectively, organize tasks, manage time, and predict the future without counting on environmental prompts to drive and regulate behavior and decisions. (Procrastination, deadlines, strained relationships, and chronic stress are among the very common external motivators.) Adults can appear unmotivated, “lazy,” or incompetent--despite putting forth a great deal of effort.

Understanding executive strengths and challenges is key to managing one’s environment in order to support a positive mindset and influence successful task completion, time management, organization and planning.