As my children grow, my focus as a parent changes. Since I’m a parent to children with special needs, I love to research and pass tips on to other parents who are going through similar situations. That’s what makes my job as ‘The Pocket Occupational Therapist‘ so fun! Not only am I an OT, but I’m also experiencing daily stresses similar to my clients. My latest focus is on learning disorders — especially Executive Function Disorder. This complex topic requires a great deal of understanding and focus on each child as an individual. Learning disabilities often cause frustration among children as they watch other peers succeed with less effort than they are using. Additionally, parenting a child with learning disorders requires extra patience and the use of strategies that are designed for building success.
Let’s discuss the basics of executive disorder in this post.
1) What DOES Executive Function mean? Did you know that our body needs a CEO to help us analyze, plan, adjust, organize, execute (carry out), and even decide WHAT’s important in our lives, Every one of us requires a plan of execution for each task we complete. We also need to be flexible as the world around us changes. As babies, we function on built-in reflexes and basic instincts that are in place to get our basic needs met. With experience, genetics, and as we learn new skills, our brains develop ‘wiring’ that connects different areas together. It’s also neat to know that each part of our brain is designed for a ‘special job.’ Our occipital brain lobe (one of four lobes) is responsible for visual processing. Our FRONTAL lobe is responsible for what we call ‘higher’ level processes. These include planning, thinking, personality, and making decisions. As you might imagine, we need executive function for almost every task we complete!
2) Our frontal lobe does not fully mature until our mid-twenties! Babies function in a rudimentary way and as we mature and develop, we build our brain and make critical connections. That’s why a baby cannot speak, complete writing tasks, and even need help to eat.
There’s an old saying that The Brain That WIRES Together, Fires Together. It’s true then, that we need a great deal of experience and practice as we grow to make complicated decisions. That’s why we aren’t able to drive until our mid-teens and drink alcohol until twenty-one (in the US).
3) In order to complete a task, we need to decide what is important in our environment. Our system is constantly bombarded by sensory stimuli. Sights, sounds, smells, feelings, and tastes are among the things we must manage. For us to pay attention to something, we need to ignore another thing. Sounds simple, right? Not for someone with sensory processing disorder or a learning disability. Sometimes paying attention to the teacher is extremely difficult when a student cannot stop focusing on their ‘itchy’ collar or that buzzing fluorescent lighting. Others might have a difficult time stopping their Pokemon Go game to work on a book report that’s due next week. Maintaining a balanced ‘sensory’ activity diet is critical for our students with sensory processing difficulties. ADD/ADHD brings additional challenges in attending to the task at hand.
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4) Making predictions can help children to learn planning and taking things apart and putting them together in a new way helps us to problem-solve. It’s technically ‘playing with’ our ideas to come up with better solutions to the decisions we make in life. Brainstorming and then forming new combinations helps us to be more creative, flexible, and assists with problem-solving. *My executive function course is NOW AVAILABLE as an ‘on-demand webinar! I’ll provide a certificate of attendance for OTs*
5) If a student experiences difficulty in the areas of time-management, beginning a task, creating solutions, and prioritizing then she is struggling with executive function components. Gaining an understanding of how our brain completes tasks helps to form support systems such as visual charts, IEP goals, and reminders help us to provide students with the help they need to succeed in school and life. I hope this post has given some helpful information about executive function. My goal is to help my readers to understand the struggles they/their children have and consider learning differences as a root cause of behavioral problems. Every child desires to succeed and it’s up to us to be detectives and seek out help. For therapists, teachers, and caregivers I’ve designed my books, talks, and webinars to give hundreds of strategies that can be used immediately for success. Looking for more information? Read my helpful post about working memory here.