Helping Children With Executive Function Challenges

What can you do to promote executive function skills in your child?

Sun, Aug 11, 2019

Parental roles in the development of executive function skills have a significant impact on their children’s development. Many parents view themselves as the “helper” in their child’s life, which causes them to take control of most executive function demands on their child, such as planning and organizing their child’s day. It is very important to promote independence in your child when it comes to these executive function tasks in order for their executive functioning skills to progress. Promoting the development of executive functioning skills in your child will allow them to be more independently successful in their future.

What are some red-flags for executive function difficulties?

  • Gets distracted easily
  • Disorganization affects ability to complete goals
    • Difficulty keeping track of belongings
    • Difficulty understanding and seeing the “big picture” or getting lost in the small details
    • Trouble communicating details in an organized, sequential manner
    • Socially out-of-sync (e.g., difficulty monitoring talking time, maintaining topics of conversation, etc.)
  • Difficulty with memorization and retrieving information from memory
    • Forgets what comes next
    • Inability to remember names and other key details
    • Has difficulty retaining information while doing something with it (e.g., remembering a phone number while dialing)
  • Difficulty planning
    • Trouble beginning tasks
    • Trouble starting homework independently and estimating how long a task will take
  • Poor emotional regulation
    • Difficulty with our emotions
    • Too much stress limits can make us feel quite anxious.
  • Difficulty transitioning to new activities/schedules etc.…
    • Trouble transitioning between tasks
    • Frequently shifts between activities, moving on to another task before one is finished
  • Manages time poorly
    • Frequently runs out of time
    • Avoids and procrastinates

How can a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) help your child develop age appropriate executive function skills?

Based on a child’s needs, a speech-language pathologist (with training in executive functioning) can provide individual instruction/ therapy in planning, organizing and managing time and space. SLPs as well as psychologists have the expertise and knowledge to identify executive function deficits.

  • SLPs can teach child-friendly strategies to help a child to use a “future picture” to appropriately identify the goal so she/he can develop a plan, execute the plan, self-monitor progress, and know when a task is complete. SLPs can teach strategies, such as organizational strategies from the top-down to allow children to better generalize their learned skills, as opposed to teach discrete skills with the hopes that children can visualize the “big picture” and use it appropriately.

  • Help the child review/evaluate performance to know what went well and how to change the plan if necessary. SLPs help children define a goal, develop a plan, execute the plan, and review their performance (e.g. Goal🡪Plan🡪Do🡪Review). Children must develop an inner voice and problem solve, particularly when reviewing successes and failures. If children do not review what went wrong versus what went well while executing their plan, they will not adequately be able to prevent problems from happening the next time they try to accomplish a similar task.

  • Assist the child with the social language aspects of executive function, such as, initiating interactions, topic maintenance, and ending/wrapping-up a conversation.

  • Help children improve awareness skills so they “read” their surroundings to determine the group plan and what is expected of them in the situation. We want children to “stop, think and create” an appropriate action plan by anticipating outcomes.

  • Help children learn to sense the passage of time to accurately and effortlessly estimate how long tasks will take as well as how to change or maintain their pace to finish tasks within an allotted amount of time.

  • Teach schemas so children can better predict the future picture/end product

  • Teach time management through the functional use of visual timers, as well as the “scope of time” through experiences in/out of the therapy room

  • Teach children who are overwhelmed by tasks that appear daunting, strategies to attack tasks. The likelihood of children completing appropriate school and household activities will not only increase, but it can give children a greater sense of pride and control.

  • Help children adopt a mindful approach to homework, including personalized study habits such as recording, bringing home, completing and returning assignments.

  • Teach children how to manage multiple activities, including homework, projects and extracurricular activities, while still finding some down time.

  • Help children organize their homework and personal spaces to create a positive and productive environment for homework and to track and organize their belongings.

Professionals have compared executive functioning skills to the air-traffic control system in a busy airport. Executive Functions cue the use of learned strategies. They enable a child to remember and use strategies and access academic knowledge. Executive function skills are the foundation upon which academic and social success is built. Well-developed executive functioning skills unlock our potential while deficits in EF prevent us from achieving our personal best.

The role of the speech-language pathologist

Not all speech-language pathologists are trained in helping children with executive function challenges. The potential role of the speech-language pathologist with training this area should not be underestimated. For many children with executive function challenges, the speech-language pathologist is the cornerstone of the child’s team. A good speech-language pathologist truly has the potential to make a significant difference in your child’s life.