Executive Functions: Buzz Words that Deserve all the Buzz

I speak about Executive Functions in most Special Education IEP meetings, including this afternoon. Many team members are not familiar, as Executive Functions are buzz words that refer to the brain-based skills that help us regulate, control & manage our thoughts & actions. These cognitive processes help us connect past experiences with present actions. That cool trick helps us make plans, startup tasks, organize & prioritize our days, keep track of time, & be flexible in our thinking. This all takes place in the front 1/3 (pre-frontal cortex) of our brain. I once heard a school psychologist refer to the Executive Functions as the conductor of the brain & that stuck with me.

If you have a student who struggles with ADHD and/or Autism Spectrum Disorder, they likely have Executive Function (EF) delays. None of us are born with executive function skills, they develop over time. Many students with learning differences have EF skills that develop slower than their peers. Students with EF delays need systems in place to strengthen their Executive Functions. It takes 1-3 months to create a habit, and EFs can really grow if you start with small steps. Small steps lead to big changes. As Advocates, both Carrie & I write goals & accommodations to help address delayed EF at school. Since EF is a cognitive delay, it can be addressed in a 504 or IEP. Some school teams do this well, while others may need a little coaching on what EF is & how to help.

Shine Advocacy Group also has two Executive Function coaches, Sara & Amy. They both hold Master’s level degrees in Education & decades of classroom experience that taught them EF delays can keep students from reaching their potential. They coach students on task initiation (how to plan & start a task), time management (estimating how much time a task with take, scheduling & staying on deadline), organization (putting systems in place to keep track of materials/info), & flexible thinking (how to adapt when plans change, a mistake is made, or there is a problem). Their sessions are often started with teaching students how to use an agenda/planner, and then coaching through any obstacles to reach the student’s top 3 goals. They are goal-getters & have a contagious enthusiasm that students are drawn to- After all, people change by feeling good, not by feeling bad.

If you are curious how to find out if your child has EF delays, a school psychologist or outside provider (psychologist or neuropsychologist) can provide a behavior rating scale called a BRIEF (Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function). If your child has large delays, you already know. This knowledge can help you get systems in place to address these lagging skills & strengthen the deficit. It takes a while to learn a new system/habit, but when the EF skills are strengthened life just gets easier.

We are here to help, whether it be at school (through 504/IEP Advocacy) or home (with Executive Function Coaching), reach out at [email protected] or via or at https://shineadvocacy.com/contact/. We also started a jazzy new Facebook group called Special Ed Advocacy 101: 504& IEP School Supports, where you can connect with other parents & grab some resources when you are there (there are videos on Executive Functions under the Guide tab). See you there!

Happy Planning & Goal-Getting,

Shannon & The Team at Shine Advocacy Group