Although there is no specific diagnosis for executive function disorder, or executive function deficits (executive functioning issues), the term is often used to describe the impairment in one's ability to manage their own cognition or executive functions.
What are Executive Functions?
Executive function is a term that has become more and more popular in the educational realm as it can have a profound impact on learning. Executive functions (EFs) collect sensory inputs as well as memories and processes from different parts of the brain. It also has its own virtual whiteboard where one can utilize the inner voice and visualizations to hold and arrange simple cognitive manipulations and tasks.
Three Main Parts of Executive Function
There are three key parts to executive function: working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility. They rarely work independently of one another, however, they do offer unique skills.
Working memory is your memory working to make sense of hold and manipulated incoming sensory information. According to Alan Baddeley's model, it utilizes the central executive (to direct information), the visuospatial sketchpad (to visualize or imagine imagery), and the phonological loop (the inner voice) to process, encode and retrieve information into an episodic buffer. The episodic buffer is just a place to hold a short episode of experience.
Inhibitory control is another part of executive function. It involves the ability to focus and maintain attention while blocking other sensory input.
Cognitive flexibility is flexible thinking. It's the ability to shift between tasks and also look at things from different perspectives.
What are the 5 Main Roles of Executive Functioning?
- Management involves task initiation, organization of information, time management, planning, and prioritization.
- Mental State includes both effort (speed and alertness) as well as emotional regulation or the management of moods and feelings.
- Metacognition or the awareness of one's thoughts entails monitoring awareness and regulation of those thoughts.
- Memory grants access to present and prior knowledge.
- Attention concerns the shifting, sustaining and managing of one's focus.
Where is Executive Functioning Located in the Brain?
Executive functions are situated mainly in the prefrontal locations of the frontal lobe. Like a conductor, Executive function skills receive incoming sensory input as well as information from other parts or instruments of the brain. Like an orchestra, the brain combines this information into a united symphony of consciousness.
This YouTube video offers more information about the prefrontal cortex:
Is There a Diagnosis for Executive Functioning?
Although there is no formal diagnosis (in the United States) for deficits in executive functioning skills, many other diagnoses exhibit executive function problems. For example, executive functioning and dyslexia often go hand in hand. In fact, working memory deficits are very common in this population of learners. In addition, those with ADHD also tend to have problems with executive function skills. They often have problems with inhibitory control, self-monitoring, and cognitive flexibility. Finally, those with learning differences may also struggle with executive functions.
How Can We Help Students With Executive Functioning Disorder?
Many students in elementary, middle, and high school exhibit difficulties with executive function. As a result, it's important to teach students about executive function as well as practical strategies that can help students with tasks such as goal setting, listening skills (note-taking), visualization skills when reading and writing, memory strategies for long term memory, and managing both time and emotions.
The Executive Functioning Cognitive Remedial Bundle presents a comprehensive approach to exercising and improving executive functioning capabilities. This discounted suite presents downloadable activities, handouts, and games designed for learning specialists, educational therapists, and even parents to assist learners in strengthening executive functioning skills. CLICK HERE to learn more.
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