Friday, February 6, 2015

Helping Children with Disabilities Start, Follow Through, and Complete Activities - Improving Executive Function

Many people with disabilities struggle with executive functioning. Your executive function abilities can be compared to the leader of an orchestra. These skills are what coordinates all other brain activities. Individuals who have problems with executive function will struggle to

  • plan a project
  • determine how long an activity will take
  • tell a story out loud or in writing
  • share details that are organized or sequential
  • memorize and retrieve memories
  • start activities
  • generate ideas
  • recall information while doing something else--such as remembering what to do next as they are getting dressed
Diagnosis of an executive function disorder may be made through standardized testing by an educational diagnostician, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Challenges with executive functioning may also be part of another disabling condition such as ADHD, autism, depression, learning disabilities, brain injuries, Alzheimer's, stroke, etc. 


There are two types of executive function: organization and regulation. Organization is involved for tasks like making a grocery list, getting to the store, purchasing the items, and getting them put away. Regulation is required to react to changes, such as lowering the volume of your voice when you go from outside to in the house.

There are many things you can do at home to improve executive function:

  • Give step-by-step instructions for new activities, with visual reminders to use along the way. 
  • Make use of organizers, watch alarms, computer reminders, and other devices for reminders.
  • Use visual schedules when learning how to get ready for school, making a simple meal, or performing household tasks like setting the table. 
  • Combine oral instructions with visual or written reminders when possible. 
  • Plan for transitions between activities (give warnings and reminders).
  • Use checklists for long tasks.
  • Break big projects (like cleaning the room) into smaller pieces, like 
    • clean off the bed
    • pick up the clothing
    • put Legos away
    • put game pieces away
    • close closet door
    • put books away
  • Train your child to write the due date at the top of every assignment.
  • Organize desks and lockers on a weekly basis
    • clear clutter
    • throw away trash
    • have a "to do" area and a "completed" area
    • make sure supplies are easy to reach
  • Make a reusable checklist for homework and projects
    • get supplies out
    • seat in designated area
    • work for 15 minutes
    • 2 minute break
    • work for 15 more minutes
    • put supplies away
    • put work in backpack to take to school
  • Schedule monthly troubleshooting sessions to review problems and form solutions.
How do you best deal with executive function challenges?