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Who is the CEO of your brain and why are they so important?


Executive function skills are often referred to as the “CEO” of the brain.

These skills are key to excelling in today’s chaotic, fast-paced learning environments. These skills take place in the prefrontal cortex of the brain and they can be one of the reasons a smart child struggles, despite high intelligence.

What skills are affected by executive functioning issues?

There are several key skills involved in executive function. But your child may not struggle with all of them to the same degree. Executive skills include:

Impulse control: This is your child’s ability to stop and think before acting. Impulsivity can be a symptom of ADHD. Kids who have trouble with impulse control may blurt things out. They may do unsafe things without thinking it through. They’re likely to rush through homework without
checking it. They also may quit a chore halfway through to go hang out with friends and have trouble following rules consistently.

Emotional control: This is your child’s ability to manage her feelings by focusing on the end result or goal. Emotional control and impulse control are closely related. Kids who struggle with emotional control often have trouble accepting negative feedback. They also may overreact to little injustices. They may struggle to finish a task when something upsets them.

Flexibility: This is your child’s ability to roll with the punches and come up with new approaches when a plan fails. Kids who are inflexible think in very concrete ways. They don’t see other options or solutions. They find it difficult to change course. They may get panicky and frustrated when they’re asked to do so.

Working memory: This is your child’s ability to hold information in her mind and use it to complete a task. Kids who have weak working memory skills have trouble with multi-step tasks. They have a hard time remembering directions, taking notes, or understanding something you’ve just explained to them. If your child has trouble with working memory, you frequently may hear, “I forgot what I was going to say.”

Self-monitoring: This is your child’s ability to keep track of and evaluate her performance on regular tasks. Kids who have trouble self-monitoring lack self-awareness. They can’t tell if their strategies are working. They may not even realize they have strategies. They often don’t know how to check their work.

Planning and prioritizing: This is your child’s ability to come up with the steps needed to reach a goal and to decide their order of importance. Kids with weak planning and prioritizing skills may not know how to start planning a project. They may be easily overwhelmed trying to break tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks. They may have trouble seeing the main idea.

Task initiation: This is your child’s ability to get started on something. Kids who struggle with this skill often have issues with planning and prioritizing too. Without having a plan for a task, it’s hard to know how to start. Kids with task initiation problems can come across as lazy or as simply procrastinating. But often they’re just so overwhelmed they freeze and do nothing.

Organization: This is your child’s ability to keep track of information and things. Kids with organizational issues are constantly losing or misplacing things. They can’t find a way to get organized even when there are negative consequences to being disorganized.

If your child has any or all of these issues, it may feel upsetting to both you and her. But there are strategies you can try at home to help your child learn to work around these weaknesses. Kids with mild to moderate weaknesses are able to compensate for them well enough to learn
and complete everyday tasks.

Here are the top Resources for Information on ADHD and Executive Functioning:

Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete Authoritative Guide for Parents. Barkley, Russell (2013): A well-written and easily readable book that provides parents with evidence-based interventions regarding ADHD. It provides parents and practitioners with the latest research-supported information regarding ADHD and various interventions.

Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents: A Practical Guide to Assessment and Intervention. Dawson, Peg and Guare, Richard (2010): A book geared toward practitioners that work with children with Executive Functioning concerns. An excellent resource for therapists and educators. It includes basic research on Executive Functioning, as well as modifications and interventions that can help children and adolescents with a variety of Executive Functioning issues including disorganization, inflexibility, initiation of tasks, and monitoring work.

Late, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning. Cooper-Kahn, J. and Dietzel: A parent-friendly resource that provides information about Executive Functioning and strategies to help with organization, problem-solving, and task initiation for home and school settings.

Additude Magazine: A quarterly magazine and website that provides research-based information to parents regarding a host of topics associated with ADHD. The advisory board for this magazine and website includes some of the best known researchers who ensure high quality information.

CHADD: Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder. CHADD is a national, non-profit organization that strives to provide parents and therapists with the latest information regarding ADHD. There are many resources available thorough this website and organization.

***These resources should be considered as just one component of the puzzle of information regarding diagnosis.