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Executive Functions:
Understanding the In's and Out's

Executive functions (EF) are essentially the brain’s director. They help to decide what to pay attention to, to complete tasks, to problem solve, to make decisions, and to control our emotions.

The major EF's include:
EF develop as kids’ brains develop and don’t reach full maturity into adulthood. Insight and judgment (i.e., making good decisions) is one of the last things to develop.
Below are some of the things typically developing kids should be able to do based on their age (based on Dawson and Guare's book Smart but Scattered):
 
Age Range EF Tasks
 
Preschool
Complete simple requests (e.g., get socks from bedroom)
Clean room with assistance
Simple chores and self-help tasks with reminders
Control behaviours such as looking both ways before crossing the street
 
K – grade 2
Complete 2- to 3-step directions
Clean room on their own
Do chores and self-help tasks (some reminders might still be needed)
Bring papers to and from school
Complete class work on their own up to 20 minutes
Decide how to spend money
Follow safety rules 
 
Grades 3-5
Run errands (may involve a time delay or greater distance)
Clean room including vacuuming, dusting
Perform chores that take 15-30 minutes
Bring books, papers, assignments home and take them back to school
Keep track of belongings
Complete homework assignments up to 1 hour
Plan simple school projects (e.g., book reports)
Track of daily schedules (e.g., different activities after school)
Save money for desired objects, plan how to earn money
Inhibit/self-regulate: behave when teacher is out of the classroom; refrain from rude comments, temper tantrums, bad manners
 
Grades 6-8
Help with chores around the home (up to 90 minutes), including daily responsibilities and occasional tasks
Babysit
Use system for organizing schoolwork, including assignment book, notebooks etc.
Follow complex school schedule involving changing teachers and changing schedules
Plan and carry out long-term projects; may require planning multiple large projects at the same time
Plan time, including after-school activities, homework, family responsibilities; estimate how long it takes to complete tasks and adjust schedule to fit
Inhibit rule breaking in the absence of visible authority

(I will have a whole new series on the teenage brain and high school success in the near future).
Now, ADHD is awesome and kids can thrive into adulthood when they can do what they love.

But, ADHD causes EF to develop later (approximately by 30%), which can cause problems in places like school. Or swimming lessons. Or when doing homework. Or when doing anything other than what they love.
EF are the greatest difficulties kids with ADHD have. For example, EF difficulties can lead to problems with:
  • impulsivity (e.g., not thinking before acting)
  • sustaining attention (e.g., paying attention to the teacher)
  • avoiding distraction (e.g., watching Johnny when I should be working)
  • delaying gratification (e.g., doing homework first and then watching TV)
  • and managing their emotions
Therefore, targeting EF is critical to maximize kids’ success - especially in school. Therefore, in the upcoming newsletters, I will provide information about each of the major executive functions and how to target them.
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Happy to help!

For more information, feel free to contact me if you have any questions related to this article, or other related issues.

Dr. Caroline Buzanko
caroline@korupsychology.ca
korupsychology.ca

Copyright © 2018 Dr. Caroline Buzanko, All rights reserved.


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