Children with neurological disorders, such as ADHD or autism, tend to struggle with executive functions. Although struggles in these areas can be substantially limiting and difficult, the good news is, executive functions can be taught. In the articles that follow, you will be guided to understand and name which skills are challenging for your child and learn some everyday strategies you can employ at home. Further, you will learn how to tell whether or not to seek professional help for these difficulties.
Well renowned psychologist Dan Siegel provides the model of the upstairs and downstairs brain. The upstairs brain is responsible for thinking and problem solving; while the downstairs brain is responsible for feelings and survival. Teaching your child how to calm down when upset, nurtures the downstairs brain. Collaboratively teaching problem solving strategies with your child builds the upstairs brain. The articles within this domain first address skills like: ‘initiation;’ the skill of getting started on tasks; and ‘planning’ which is the skill of seeing an end goal and plotting out a course toward achieving it. For example, a child may have a country report due in a month. In order to pull this off successfully, this child would need to be able to plan out: a topic, research plan, outline the paper, write, edit, and complete a final draft. Another executive function is self-monitoring, or ‘monitor;’ which refers keeping track of one’s own progress toward a goal or objective. Metacognition is an executive function whereby an individual can develop a strategy for solving problems or completing tasks. Finally, ‘organization,’ and ‘organization of materials’ falls under executive functions. This executive function refers to personal organization and time management; as well as, keeping track of school supplies, and making one’s binder, locker or desk, neat and orderly. These skills are all addressed in the articles that follow under the organization domain. If many or all of these skills are impaired, your child may need clinical help. The key factor to consider is call ‘impairment in daily functioning; meaning that the deficit is ‘getting in the way’ of your child’s success and happiness. If so, a psychologist, neuropsychologist, learning specialist or school psychologist may be needed to help your child grow in his or her executive functioning skills.