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Is Your Child Struggling With Executive Function?

3 Signs Of Executive Dysfunction

Recently, executive function has started getting the attention it deserves online and in schools. And rightfully so! Referred to as the “executive powerhouse” by Wolf’s own speech and language pathologist, Kristyn Sequeira, executive function skills are those higher-level skills that we use every day in all that we do.  These skills happen in the frontal lobe of our brain and are responsible for everything from working memory to organization to impulse control to time management.

When a child struggles with executive function, it’s not just evident at school. It affects every aspect of their lives from home to play dates to events and family gatherings. But how can you tell if your child is struggling with executive function?

While there are many tell-tale signs that may indicate your child is struggling with executive function skills, we sat down with Wolf’s SLP, Kristyn Sequeira, to talk about 3 signs that parents might see at home that could be an indicator of executive dysfunction.

1. Poor Listening

Does it seem like no matter how many times you repeat the day’s schedule to your child, they still manage to forget their skates for hockey practice? Or despite reviewing their list of chores to complete, you come home to find the trash only taken to the front door and not outside? If this sounds familiar, you might think that your child just doesn’t listen but actually, their struggle could be much more than that.

When a child struggles with executive function, they can’t follow oral directions. While they might hear the first step of your instructions, you’ve completely lost them on step 2 and beyond. Simply put, they’re not able to tune in to those directions. And due to struggles with working memory, they can’t retrieve those instructions after you’ve said it. This can result in them not even starting a task because they don’t know how to even begin or only completing part of the task at hand.

2. Responds To Visual Over Verbal

Another indicator that your child might have issues with executive function is when you find they respond better to gestures or visual cues as opposed to verbal instructions. For example, when you list out the steps needed to set the table, you might return to find they haven’t even started it and instead are just staring out the window. But, when you do the first place setting yourself and put it on the table and ask them to do the rest, they are able to do it without issue!

It might appear that your child is picking and choosing when and what tasks they can complete but it may have more to do with how you’re providing the needed information. Many times, children who struggle with executive function need visual cues to help them start a task and be able to see it through to completion. When you do the first place setting yourself, they are able to match the visual you have created instead of trying to remember everything that’s needed to set the table. This is because they have a visual reminder to check throughout the process instead of trying to rely on their own working memory.

3. Struggles With Self Control

It’s a scene no parent wants to witness. You’re at the annual family holiday gathering and all of the cousins are opening gifts together so nicely. That is until your child rips a newly opened gift right out of the hands of a family member.

While you might be mortified, this can be an indicator your child might be struggling with a lack of inhibition – not poor behavior. Executive dysfunction can present itself in many ways like struggles with sharing and issues with self-regulation. Do you find your child interrupting while someone else is speaking? Do they struggle to read a situation appropriately and respond accordingly?  Can they not share their toys with a younger sibling no matter how many times you ask? When struggling with executive dysfunction, children don’t have the skills to read the room or control their own impulses.

So many demands are made of children throughout the day at school and at home and if they struggle with executive function, they’re not able to easily meet these demands. When they have no idea what’s expected of them and constantly feel like they’re falling short of expectations, their anxiety can go way up while their self-esteem plummets. This is why it’s critical to identify if your child struggles with executive function.

If you suspect your child might be struggling with executive function, reach out to their pediatrician to discuss your concerns. We also recommend researching strategies you can put in place today to help your child at school and at home.

While there’s no official diagnosis of executive dysfunction, once identified, strategies can be put in place at school and at home to help your child thrive. These are skills that are critical in our day-to-day lives but are also skills that we can build on and continue to improve!

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