Executive Functioning

Executive function is a term used to describe a set of cognitive skills that are necessary for the regulation and control of thoughts, actions, and behaviors in order to achieve our goals and function effectively in daily life. These skills are essential for success in school, work, and personal relationships, and they can have a significant impact on our overall well-being.   These skills allow us to plan, organize, initiate, and complete tasks, as well as to manage our time, emotions, and impulses.

Some specific examples of executive functions include:

  • Planning and organization: the ability to create and follow a plan, set goals, and keep track of multiple tasks and deadlines.
  • Working memory: the ability to hold information in mind for a short period of time and use it to complete a task.
  • Attention: the ability to focus on a task for a sustained period of time, and to shift attention as needed.
  • Inhibition: the ability to control impulses and inhibit inappropriate behaviors.
  • Emotional control: the ability to regulate emotions and manage stress.
  • Flexibility: the ability to adapt to new situations and to switch between tasks or strategies as needed.

Executive function skills are important for successful academic performance, and they can also have a significant impact on social and emotional well-being.    Overall, executive functioning skills are important because they help us navigate the demands and challenges of daily life and achieve our goals.  Anyone can struggle with executive functioning skills to some degree, and these difficulties can be related to a wide range of factors, including medical conditions, developmental disabilities, and environmental influences. Some specific groups of people who may struggle with executive functioning include:

  • Children with developmental delays or learning disabilities: Children with conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia, or autism may have particular difficulty with executive function skills, which can impact their academic performance and overall functioning.
  • Individuals with brain injuries: Traumatic brain injuries and other types of brain damage can affect executive function skills.
  • Older adults: As we age, we may experience a decline in some executive function skills, such as working memory and flexibility.
  • People with mental health conditions: Certain mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, can affect executive function skills.
  • People with chronic stress or poor sleep: Chronic stress and sleep deprivation can both negatively impact executive function skills.

It’s important to note that executive functioning skills can be improved with practice and support, so it is possible to overcome difficulties in these areas.  There are many strategies that can be helpful for overcoming difficulties with executive functioning skills. Jump into our resources/handout section of the Hub and check out our handout on specific strategies that may be effective.  We also have an entire section on support for caregivers that include: routine templates, calendars, memory aides, templates for lists, etc.  Everything is needed to support caregivers who either struggle with executive functioning or parenting/taking care of someone in the home who struggles in this area.   It’s important to note that improving executive function skills can take time and effort, and it may involve trying out different strategies to see what works best for you. With practice and support, it is possible to improve your executive function skills and overcome difficulties in these areas.