Frequently asked questions
What is Executive Function Disorder?
Executive Function Disorder (EFD), also called executive dysfunction, is a developmental issue that inhibits the brain’s ability to carry out projects, goals, and tasks. Children with EFD have difficulty organizing materials, keeping track of belongings, planning and sticking to a schedule, and completing projects with a deadline.
Executive function typically begins to develop at the age of two and progresses well into adulthood. When this growth is slowed, a child may be more likely to act on impulse or struggle to be motivated by long-term objectives. EFD is an all-encompassing term for this broad developmental obstacle that frequently includes or results in other learning difficulties such as Attention Deficit Hypersensitivity Disorder (ADHD) or dyslexia.
What are signs and symptoms of Executive Function Disorder?
Early signs of EFD may appear during several different life stages because executive functions take many years to fully develop. Potential signs can be common behaviors for any child, but incessant difficulty with executive functions is often indicative of EFD. Signs and symptoms include:
- Trouble starting or completing tasks
- Difficulty prioritizing
- Problems with retaining information
- Issues following directions or a sequence of steps
- Panic when rules or routines change
- Trouble switching focus from one task to another
- Becoming overly emotional or obsessive
- Difficulty organizing thoughts
- Struggling to keep track of belongings
- Problems with time management
Executive functions interact with one another so early difficulty has a domino effect throughout the growth and development of a child. It’s important to be aware of these signs to take appropriate action and limit possible long-term effects.
Why are Executive Functioning Skills Important?
Executive functioning skills allow individuals to prioritize tasks and correctly sequence needed behaviors to complete them efficiently. Skills like planning and organizing are crucial to success at work, school, and in daily life. At every stage of development, these skills are necessary to manage our home and thrive in our careers.
An Example of Executive Function Skills at Work in a Preschool-Age Child:
The child must use executive function skills to complete the seemingly simple task of building a block tower. First, the child must take out the blocks that they would like to use. Then they might sort through the blocks to find the best ones to use as a base. Next, they must continue to find empty spots to place new blocks, and they even may need to negotiate and collaborate with their peers for space or to use the blocks they need. To complete the tower, they must have a plan and execute it from start to finish.
An Example of Executive Function Skills at Work in an Adult Professional:
The adult will be asked to used executive functioning skills to lead a team involved in the planning and development of a new section of a city. The person will be required to determine the sites for the new buildings and roads, consider emergency and evacuation plans, and collaborate with professionals from various disciplines who will each do their part. The leader will plan, organize, make decisions to take the project from an idea to a plan to action and ultimately to the point of completion. Without strong executive functioning skills, the plan is not likely to come to fruition.
What are Executive Functions?
The term "executive function" refers to the processes in the brain which direct our conscious behavior choices. Executive functions connect our present choices to future outcomes. They help us manage our time, be productive, plan, organize, and reach goals. These processes are located primarily in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the part of the brain directly behind the forehead. This is the last part of the brain to mature, not fully developing in most individuals until the ages of 25 to 30+. Neuroscience is making great strides in understanding executive functions. Executive function skills - the daily tasks that require our executive functions - are also a hot topic in neuroscience, psychology, and education.
What are some useful tools for Executive Funtion?
1. Make a Daily To do List
Creating a daily list of tasks and projects can help to improve the challenges of executive function disorder. To-do lists can help you stay motivated, organized, and make progress towards your goals. A daily to-do list is a powerful way to manage impulses that can lead to poor decision-making
2. Use a Calendar
Create a daily, weekly, or monthly schedule to track important dates and appointments. Update your calendar daily. Try to make recurring appointments at the same time of day.
3. Take Notes
Take time to write down important dates, reminders, or rules that come up in a designated notebook. Keep it organized. Keep sticky notes in a place that is easily accessible. Take notes related to important calls so that you can keep track of details discussed in meetings and conversations.
4. Use Reminders
Use reminders and alarms to keep you organized and on time for appointments and meetings.
5. Learn How to Manage Your Time
Break down to-do lists as "urgent," "important," and "non-urgent." This will allow you to budget plenty of time for those long-term projects that are important to you.
6. Stay Organized
If you find yourself losing items frequently or feeling overwhelmed, try decluttering your home or office. Stay organized and keep your area tidy to help you locate items and feel less overwhelmed.
How long will my child work with an Executive Function Coach?
This depends on each student’s goals. Most students meet frequently with their coach for several months to establish executive functioning skills and get systems in place. Once students are comfortable in their new systems, they tend to meet less frequently with coaches, as long as they continue to meet their goals. These students often find that some support at the start of each school year is helpful as they adjust to new schedules and teachers.
Students with specific goals—as well as students who need guidance in finding goals or areas of significant challenge—may be on a different timeline. Whatever the scenario, our goal is to help students establish skills that enable them to make future academic transitions independently.
When is the best time to start working with an Executive Function Coach?
Generally, the best time to start transitions work is at the beginning of the school year, when students can review their current systems, as well as the expectations and requirements of their new teachers. For college transitions, we recommend that work start towards the end of the summer before college begins. Of course, any time you notice that your child needs help is the right time to reach out.