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What are Executive Function Skills?
Executive function skills are the core set of cognitive skills required for planning, completing and evaluating the completion of tasks, as well as overseeing our communication exchanges. These cognitive skills are typically divided into lower level and higher-level skills. The lower level cognitive skills refer to functions that control behavior, such as attention, motivation and emotion regulation. The higher-level cognitive skills refer to metacognitive functions that guide behavior, such as planning, organizing, monitoring, reasoning, problem solving and flexibility. There are episodic memories of our experiences that we form into schemas and routines. We retrieve and flexibly apply these schemas for new communication and learning situations while we also monitor our goals, time and use of strategies. We gradually develop these cognitive skill sets from young childhood through young adulthood.
How do students use Executive Function Skills during learning?
Executive function skills support students to develop independent learning skills by developing the following:
- Plan homework, written papers and projects
- Prioritize and initiate tasks
- Monitor how plans are working, problem-solve and make changes
- Plan and manage time in order to complete work to meet due dates
- Use strategies to manage motivation, attention and energy levels
- Manage distractions and return to tasks
- Use prior experiences as a guide for completing tasks and working with others
- Organize thinking during all aspects of learning and communication with teachers
- Use external organizational systems to track papers and belonging
- Aware when there are problems and seek resources
My child can tell time, but why are they having trouble finishing tasks or following routines?
Clocks, calendars and schedules only help students recognize clock time. The time read on a clock represents only a tiny segment of how a student experiences time in their lives. There are many hidden dimensions of time and the language of time is often complex and abstract. As language specialists we have the ideal opportunity to teach the comprehension and production of expressive and receptive time as it pertains to time management, complex planning, self regulation/pacing, temporal reasoning and the development of episodic memory for narrative language.
How can a Speech and Language Pathologist help my child who has Executive Function Difficulties?
The executive function skills are mediated by language. Even students with strong language skills who suffer from executive function problems have difficulties using their language to set goals, reason, problem solve and mediate completion of tasks. While there is a large market of organizational tools that can be useful for some students, many students with executive function difficulties need to develop metacognitive and organized language skills in order to benefit from tools that suit their particular learning styles. This supports the idea that executive function therapy goes “beyond the backpack”. Students develop the language skills for understanding, analyzing and applying more efficient strategies that help them become more efficient, independent learners.
Does my child need a Speech and Language Evaluation?
It depends. We reccomend that most children complete the formal evaluation process so that we can get to know your child and the various aspects of their schooling. If you have already had a formal evaluation done by another Speech and Language Pathologist, we would be happy to review it and use that as a starting point.