If you’ve heard the term executive function impairments, it may seem a bit clinical and, in a word, confusing. For parents who may have questions about this, let’s take some time to explain what is meant by executive function and potential effects from having impairments.

What is Executive Function?

Essentially, executive function refers to a specific set of skills that people use in their lives every day. This includes things like self-control, flexible thinking, problem-solving, planning, and organization. Executive functions are very important for children but also throughout life. Executive function impairments quite simply mean some sort of deficiency in one or more areas of executive function.

Thus, it is very important to identify potential impairments to executive function as early as possible to begin working with children on solutions. When identified at an early age, interventions can be put into place to help children improve and develop these critical skills for successful longer term outcomes.

How Do We Assess Executive Function?

 There are many ways to assess executive function; however, perhaps the most successful is using Brown’s Model of Executive Functions. Brown’s Model was created based upon over 25 years of clinical interviews and research with children, adolescents, and adults. Thus, this is by far the most thorough model for explaining executive function and potential impairments seen in disorders such as ADHD. The Brown Model contains six areas of focus:

Activation. This deals with self-motivation to begin work, organize, and prioritize things.

Focus. As you would expect, this deals with the ability to stay focused on a specific task when needed without bouncing from one thing to another.

Effort. Effort involves being able to dedicate mental processes to one specific activity in a sustained manner.

Emotion. This can be seen as self-control, being able to deal with frustration and other negative emotions in a healthy way.

Memory. Memory involves being able to utilize working memory as well as recalling information, critical for completing tasks.

Action. This refers to a person’s ability to monitor and self-regulate themselves in terms of doing things.

What Are Problems Caused by Executive Function Impairments

If your child experiences an impairment in their executive functioning, you may see one or many different problems that arise. These problems may become more severe over time in the impairment is not addressed. Potential problems include the following:

  • Low grades in school (or poor work performance later in life)
  • Trouble organising materials
  • Misplacement of materials
  • Moodiness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty building and maintaining friendships
  • Desire to avoid difficult tasks
  • Low levels of motivation to pursue interests or join activities
  • Forgetfulness

What Should I Do if I Think My Child May be Affected?

If you think your child may be experiencing difficulties in an area of executive function, know that this is something that many children experience. It can also be addressed. Please contact our clinic at your earliest convenience to discuss your situation. We provide services that will assess for executive function impairments and treat them when they are present. We are to help.

Written by Maria Karefilakis – Educational & Developmental Psychologist

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