You may have heard of the term executive functioning and wondered what it means. In a nutshell, the executive functions are a set of mental skills that help us focus, plan, and manage tasks. 

Children with ADHD typically have issues in one or more of these areas, but executive functioning delays may be present without an ADHD diagnosis. It is important to understand these areas because often children can be perceived as “lazy” or “bad” when they really lack skills to do what is expected of them. (And here at Apex OT we wholeheartedly believe that children will do well when they can, and if they can’t it is because they are lacking in skills such as these). 

Here is a quick description of the specific skills included with executive functioning. Some of these are relatively self-explanatory, others you may not be familiar with. 

Inhibitory Control- the ability to think before you act, to resist the urge to say or do something allows us time to evaluate a situation and how our behavior might impact it.

Example:  waiting for turn in class and not interrupting, accepting a referee’s call without an argument. 

Self-Monitor- awareness of the impact of one’s own behavior on other people and outcomes, ability to observe how you problem solve 

Example: changing behavior in response to feedback from an adult, monitor and critique own performance and improve it by observing others who are more skilled

(How am I doing? Or How did I do? )

Shift- the ability to move freely from one situation, activity, or aspect of a problem to another as the circumstances demand (flexible, able to problem solve)

Example: adjusting to a change in plans without major distress such as a change in the classroom schedule, a fun activity being canceled. It also includes the ability to transition from one activity to another or to move on after becoming upset. 

Emotional Control– The ability to modulate or regulate emotional responses; helps a person to remain calm and resist the urge to overreact or shutdown due to criticism or obstacles

Example: being able to manage the anxiety of a game or test and still perform, ability to avoid an overreaction to a small problem. 

Initiate- a child’s ability to begin a task or activity and to independently generate ideas, responses, or problem-solving strategies

Example: able to start a chore or assignment right after instructions are given,  does not wait until the last minute to begin a project. 

Working Memory– the capacity to hold information in mind for the purpose of completing a task; encoding information; or generating goals, plans, and sequential steps to achieve goals

Example: being able to hold in their mind and follow 1-2 step directions, remembering  the expectations of multiple teachers.

Plan/Organize- the ability to manage current and future-oriented task demands; planning skills allow a child to effectively accomplish a task and to determine which aspects are most important

Example: think of options to settle a peer conflict, formulate a plan to complete all homework in one evening. 

Task Monitor– work-checking habits, ability to monitor self during an activity

Example:using a checklist for turning in assignments/ completing homework. 

Organization of materials– orderliness of work, play, and storage spaces; ability to create and maintain systems to keep track of information or materials.

Example:  putting toys in a designated place with a reminder, organizing and locating items in a desk or locker

Processing speed pace at which you take in information, make sense of it, and begin to respond

Example: Children with slow processing speed often stop paying attention in class because they can’t keep pace with the lesson 

Knowing which areas are affected can help us know how to modify activities, which accommodations may be helpful at school, and where explicit teaching is needed.