What are executive functions?

The executive functions are a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one's resources in order to achieve a goal.

  • EF are the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation.
  • EF generally refers to the cognitive processes that enable individuals to engage in goal-directed or problem-solving behaviors.
  • EF may include goal setting or identifying a problem, developing a plan, the ability to execute the plan, flexibility, attention and memory systems and evaluation or self-monitoring including organization, time management, and a strategic approach to task completion.
  • In real life, difficulty with EF looks like kids who can't find their books or papers, forget to do or turn in their homework or have difficulty getting started, sustaining effort during and completing tasks and managing emotions.
exec func
  • Activation-
  • Initiation - The ability to begin a task or activity and to independently generate ideas, responses, or problem-solving strategies.
  • Your child thought about calling a friend to check on the math assignment, but he just didn't get around to it until a parent initiated the process.
  • Planning - The ability to manage current and future- oriented task demands. Planning how to address the task.
  • In this case, individuals lack the ability to systematically think about what materials they would need to be ready for the completion of a group project and to get to the intended place at the intended time with their needs cared for along the way.
  • Organization of Materials - The ability to impose order on work, play, and storage spaces. Organizing the steps needed to carry out the task.
  • It was your child's job to organize the things in her room. However, she just piled things into the corner rather than systematically making checklists and organizing things so important items would be easily accessible, the space would be used efficiently, and her "stuff" would be orderly and comfortable.
  • Focus
  • Shift - The ability to move freely from one situation to another and to think flexibly in order to respond appropriately to the situation. Adjusting or shifting the steps, if needed, to complete the task.
  • When there is a question regarding who will play with the game first, it would make sense to problem solve how to divide time or share by generating possible solutions.
  • Effort-
  • Analyzing a task, developing timelines for completing the task, and completing the task in a timely way
  • When given a large assignment, your child sets the due in her agenda, breaks down the assignment into parts to be completed over time with personally prescribed dates and completes the parts as time passes to avoid cramming large sections in the night before it is due.
  • Emotional Control –
  • The ability to modulate emotional responses by bringing rational thought to feelings.
  • The example here is an individual's anger when confronted with her own impulsive behavior in committing to a hang out before confirming with her mother and not being able to regulate after being told “no”
  • Memory-
  • Working memory - The capacity to hold information in mind for the purpose of completing a task.
  • A child who cannot keep the due dates of an assignment in his head long enough to put them on the calendar after being verbally told the due date.
  • Action-
  • Self-Monitoring - The ability to monitor one's own performance and to measure it against some standard of what is needed or expected.
  • Despite the fact that your child called a friend for a hang out without planning it with you, he does not know how he will get there, with almost no plan for what will happen during the hangout, and he does not understand why you are so upset.
  • Inhibition - The ability to stop one's own behavior at the appropriate time, including stopping actions and thoughts. The flip side of inhibition is impulsivity; if you have weak ability to stop yourself from acting on your impulses, then you are "impulsive."
  • When a friend called to schedule a hang out, it would have made sense to tell her, "Let me check in with my mom first. It sounds great, but I just need to get permission before I commit."