EXECUTIVE FUNCTION SKILLS
The CONTROL System Of The Brain
Executive Function Skills is a set of COGNITIVE PROCESSES that forms the management system of your brain, and it allows us to get through our daily tasks.
This does not refer to our ability to pay attention to basic stimuli but how to direct and sustain your attention to low stimuli that require effort. We can all pay attention, and typically, our focus is scattered over various situations, tasks and environments. Your child is aware of bite-size chunks of all stimuli in their surroundings, for instance, what the teacher is saying, the grass being mowed outside the classroom and the two friends talking three desks away. This leads to behaviour that indicates that they are NOT paying attention. They are! However, their attention is not focused on the task at hand.
Scenario: Homework should take 10 minutes but takes 3 hours!
Children may struggle to get started on a given task– they don’t know what to do next, plan, prioritise and complete it. So instead, they avoid what they must do, suddenly, they need to get a drink, a toilet break, or they are starving! They will do anything that does not require sitting down to begin the needed task – PROCRASTINATION.
In the classroom, they don’t know exactly what to do or where to start, so instead, they do nothing, and the teacher sees this as not listening, lack of attention or rebellious behaviour.
Your child knows everything about the solar system. They are given a task with five days to complete a project on the topic. This will require FOCUS, INITIATION AND ORGANISATION.
What happens? Yes, they procrastinate and avoid starting because they have not been able to implement a PLAN. It is not that they don’t want to do it. They don’t know how! The project is completed in a panic at the last minute or not handed in at all. The OUTCOME will not reflect what the child is capable of.
Your child becomes cemented in one-way thinking, and they struggle to ‘switch’ their approach and use a different problem-solving strategy.
It’s more challenging for them to do something different than
the way they have been doing it. They are very rigid in their thinking, and they do not have the ability to be flexible in their working processes.
Typically, children who demonstrate challenges like these listed above have difficulties with cognitive flexibility. Cognitive flexibility is the ability to adapt our behaviour and thinking in response to the environment.
Cognitive flexibility can be portrayed in two ways:
1. The ability to think about multiple things at the same time.
2. The ability to modify thinking based on a change in expectations and/or demands.
This is where your child receives instructions, manipulates them, and responds to the task.
Examples of working memory tasks could include holding a person's address in mind while listening to instructions about how to get there or listening to a sequence of events in a story while trying to understand what the story means and answer the questions (Good COMPREHENSION plays an important role)
SCENARIO: In class, the teacher may give the following instructions: Put away your notebook, take out your maths book and turn to page 3, and continue with exercise 2.1.
They have been given a set of instructions, and they must store the instructions in their memory bank and follow through. They can recall the first instruction correctly but cannot follow through with the balance of the task as they cannot recall the rest of the instructions. This results in the child falling behind or being in trouble for not listening!
This includes SELF CONTROL and IMPULSE CONTROL.
Impulse control is the ability to stop and think before acting. For many, this is a fundamental weakness. Children will talk out of turn or interrupt a person, often failing to comprehend all the instructions and making careless mistakes.
They will rush through schoolwork, sacrificing accuracy and task completion.
Self-control is the ability to manage one’s feelings, thoughts and behaviours amidst temptations and impulses to achieve a specific goal. When children struggle with emotions, they will have trouble accepting criticism, even if it is constructive. They cannot keep their eyes on the goal when they are emotional or something unexpected happens.
They are quick to call a situation “unfair”. They struggle to focus on schoolwork when they are distressed about something.
This can affect your decision-making process. Good decisions require you to STOP, THINK and then consider options before you ACT.