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Five signs your child may have an executive function disorder


Executive function (EF) is a broad umbrella term that refers to the collection of processes involved in one’s ability to engage in independent, purposeful, goal-directed behavior. It involves the ability to attend, plan, organize, initiate, monitor, inhibit and problem solve. More simply put, executive functioning skills are self-regulating skills. They are used every day to do things like plan ahead, stay organized, solve problems and focus on what’s important.Beyond the obvious signs of a messy, disorganized desk or backpack, the following five signs may be indicative of EF and may warrant further investigation. 


Difficulty “shifting gears 

At school, your child is not finished with a math sheet, but then it’s time to move on to P.E. (a desired activity). He resists leaving the classroom until the math sheet is finished, even though he really loves P.E 


Difficulty planning ahead 

Due to challenges with keeping thoughts and belongings organized, your child may have trouble making social plans. He may say he just wants to do whatever everybody else wants because he is having trouble initiating or formulating his own idea. Academically, long-term assignments that have multiple components are very difficult, and portions may be incomplete or missing. As a side effect of poor planning, assignments are often turned in late. 


Is vague or off-topic 

Especially when answering questionsFor example, if asked, “Do you want a tuna fish or peanut butter sandwich?, your child may say, “Yes.” A child with EF weakness often struggles to process incoming information accurately, even though she recognizes the question that was asked. 


Can be surprised when a test goes poorly 

A child with EF weakness tends to have a hard time self-monitoring errors. As a result, she may come out of a test thinking, “I just aced that test!” and then become surprised and disappointed if she performed poorly.  


Gets stuck on an idea 

Since kids with EF weakness tend to thrive in routine—as it helps them better anticipate what comes next—they have challenges when a routine changes. For example, Tuesdays are always taco night at home, but you’re having company in from out of town and decide to eat at a steak house instead. A child with EF weakness may get stuck on “taco Tuesday and have a hard time switching gears to the new plan. 

BStacy Fretheim, MS, CCC-SLP 

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